Editor’s note: Washington Bureau reporter Jessica Wehrman, a native of Urbana, lives near Eugene Simpson Field in Alexandria, Va., where Congressman Steve Scalise and others were shot this week during practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game. After spending the day reporting from the scene of the shooting, Jessica reflected on how the event impacted her family and her community just outside of Washington, D.C.
One recent night I crested the small hill on my street to see two tiny heads bobbing up and down in front of my driveway.
My son, who is 10, had recently taken up Pogo sticks. The two neighbor boys, finding him not out already, patiently waited, sproing-sproing-sproinging as they watched for our car to come down the street.
We stumbled upon this place when we were first married. At our first house, good old Virginia boys would drink Budweisers out of their pickup trucks in the immediate hours after work.
At our second, we’d spend long, intoxicated nights with the nice gay couple up the street, trying to figure how to make our tiny duplexes look a little more luxurious.
At our third, the Pogo stick boys. All three of those houses are less than a mile from each other. This is the place where we chose to live, an expensive neighborhood full of tiny bedrooms and busted plumbing and neighbors who are welcome to discipline your kids as their own.
I’ve watched the kids – not just mine, but the neighbors - go from drippy-nosed toddlers to beautiful teenagers.
One of the centerpieces of our neighborhood is Simpson Field, a sprawling series of athletic fields, dog parks and basketball courts across from our YMCA. It’s close enough that our kids could go there on their own. On soccer practice nights, I’d stop in the parking lot long enough to watch my son and his buddies wander off toward the soccer fields.
I cheered for my kids at this field, first as young soccer players, then as Little League players trying desperately to win the championship game. One night, I played the walk-up music as my son’s team struggled to make up for a 13-3 deficit in the semi-finals (they nearly did it, too; just ran out of innings to play). A few weeks ago, my daughter and I sat in the concession stand for hours, handing out free gumballs to kids who claimed to have caught foul balls. The loudest sound was the crack of the bat.
This place – this neighborhood, these fields – are the safest place on earth to me. And on Wednesday morning, that security was shattered by a man who thought his political beliefs justified gunning down innocent people.
I resent the hell out of this man. I’m angry that he claimed this warm, loving neighborhood, drank beer in our restaurants, hung out in the YMCA lobby while after-school kids wandered in and out and bleary-eyed parents watched their kids learn to swim.
Was he planning to hurt people while he sat there, watching the best parts of this place filter in and out?
Was he so firm in his opinions that he thought those who disagreed with him deserved to die?
How dare he. How dare he.
I spent Wednesday morning reporting on the scene, talking with my neighbors as I tried to figure out what the hell happened. I worked hard so I would not have to think. I’m sure my feelings are no different than the people in West Liberty, Ohio, near my hometown, who felt their knees weaken at the news that a gunman had opened fire in their school a few months back.
I’m sure they are no different than anyone who wandered through the safe place in their world only to recognize that in fact, no place is ever truly safe. I asked my kids about this on the way home from school last night. My husband, daughter and dog and I wandered the two blocks from our house to my son’s school. On the way home, I asked them what they knew.
“Do you feel safe?” I asked them. My son had just told me how he listened to the news about the shooting on the computers in his class. My daughter had spent the morning texting me about her school being on lockdown. I knew she was fine when, at noon, she asked if we had canola oil for a recipe she wanted to try.
“Mom, I have been safe here for 13 years,” my daughter said. “One morning won’t change that.” I said nothing, but in my head I offered a silent prayer. Please God, I thought. Please let her be right.