I want to thank all of those who called or wrote me to make sure I, or my group, was OK last week. Obviously, we were all fine, but I appreciate the sentiment. I was with my last major group of the season, a great bunch from Wisconsin, at the Capitol and we were not directly involved at all. However, a fellow guide, Alex Matthews, was with his group at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Alex was kind enough to give me his firsthand account of the tragedy at the Museum.
Last Wednesday, I took my WorldStrides group of 7th and 8th graders for a visit to the Holocaust Museum at around 12:30 p.m. Their visit was to be a brief one to visit the Daniel's Story exhibit. We entered the Museum on the 15th Street side where, as I always do, I pointed out the Eisenhower statement about Holocaust deniers. I then sent them into the exhibit. My lead teacher needed to use the rest room but the other two teachers went into the Daniel's Story exhibit with the students. I positioned myself on the bench at the exit of Daniel's Story to wait for my group. Suddenly, there was a clamor sounding almost like something large and metal may have fallen down the stairs. Once I processed the sound, it became clear that it was gunshots. I told all the students surrounding me (none of whom were in my group) to get down and get under the benches. They did so immediately. Soon thereafter, we could hear the voices of a number of individuals who would turn out to be plain cloths security. It appeared that they did not feel that they had secured the Museum. After a bit, I decided that I needed to be with my group so I ran the few feet to the exit door of Daniel's Story and began to work my way backwards through the exhibit in search of my charges. I informed museum goers of the goings-on as I went. When I finally reached my group, the police had begun to direct groups out the 15th Street door and we were ordered to run out and then run to Independence Ave. My group was assembled at the corner and I walked them across the street to the green space along 15th Street where the teachers and I counted them. We had everyone except the lead teacher but we soon made telephone contact and within a couple of minutes we were reunited. As our bus was parked just outside of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (next door to the Holocaust Museum), I walked the group through the grassy area and then across to the bus. The driver arranged with the police to leave the area via Maine Ave and we were at Union Station by 1:30 p.m. At no point did we know any of the particulars of who had been shot or the extent of the violence. A security guard was uncharacteristically emotional. I could tell from her behavior and some of the things she said that one of her colleagues had been injured and that evening we were sad to hear that he died of his wound.
This experience occasioned a lot of emotion among my teachers and the students. We urged all the students to call their parents to let them know that they were well. My lead teacher called WorldStrides (the tour company) to let them know that we were all safe. After lunch, on the way to the Capitol, we all sat on a stand near the Russell Senate Office Building to talk about and to process what had occurred. Each student was given the opportunity to speak as were all the adults. When I spoke, I told them how pleased I was to be with this particular group who had behaved just as they were asked and cooperated at every turn. I added that there are people who would, through such acts of violence, have us alter and limit our lives. I asked, "do we want them to win?" The students gave a resounding "no."
We then visited the Capitol, the Library of Congress and did a picture stop at the Supreme court and the students were attentive and profited from the experience. After dinner, the teachers decided that the students had lost their ability to absorb any more information and needed to go back to the hotel.
The next day we were unable to walk past the south side of the White House (this usually happens when the president is on the move) -- a disappointment erased by the passing motorcade of the president which occasioned much excitement (especially as my group was from Illinois). Mr.Obama was waving not from his usual limousine but rather a well armored SUV. I suspect, in light of the previous day's events, that the Secret Service advised against
using Marine 1 (helicopter) to go to Andrews AFB for his flight to Green Bay so they had a motorcade to the airport.