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'Code red lockdown!’ — Reporter shares firsthand account of shooting at Central

Holly Viers • Aug 30, 2017 at 9:15 AM

Aug. 30, 2010, is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Today marks seven years since a gunman entered Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, my alma mater. Just like I’ve done every August since it happened, I’ve been thinking a lot about that day over the past few weeks.

I remember almost every detail of that day just like it was yesterday. It was a Monday that started off like any other. My freshman year at Sullivan Central had just begun, so I was still getting into the swing of things at my new school.

We were only a couple hours into the school day when it happened. My freshman honors English class was in the library finishing up a quiz on one of our summer reading books when a panicked voice came over the intercom.

“Code red lockdown! Code red lockdown!” the voice cried, alerting everyone that an armed man had entered the building. As the announcement blared through the speakers, our teacher and the library staff scrambled to each of the library entrances, covering the windows and locking the doors.

My classmates and I were shuffled into a back room of the library, which connected to one of the main offices. We huddled into the back corner of the room, holding hands and praying that everything would be OK.

As I took a seat on the cold, hard floor of that back room, everything around me seemed to blur. I remember being completely shell-shocked, wondering where exactly the gunman was and if anyone had been hurt. I was in disbelief that something like this was happening at my school, in my small hometown.

At one point, our then-Principal Melanie Riden entered the room from the office entrance, her voice full of panic. Tears streamed down her face as she told us that the armed man had held a gun to her head.

A few minutes later, muffled voices and the crisp bang of a gunshot broke the silence, sending a wave of terror through my body. More gunshots followed, though I don’t remember the exact number. The shots seemed to echo in my mind long after the firing had stopped.

Although we later found out that the incident only lasted about 15 minutes, it seemed to go on for hours. We learned that the gunman never made it past the science pod, the closest pod to the main entrance, and that no students, faculty or officers were harmed. The gunman had been shot after pointing his weapon at the officers, and he later died on the way to a local hospital.

We were dismissed from school early that day, and later that evening I watched a clip from a press conference given by Sheriff Wayne Anderson. In the clip, Anderson confirmed what I had already suspected: The gunman had been shot right outside the library, where a class full of 14-year-old students, including me, had been.

To this day, I credit Carolyn Gudger, the school’s student resource officer at the time, and the other responding officers for saving my life and the lives of so many others. I know that if Officer Gudger had not been there from the start of the incident, things could have ended a lot differently.

I only recently got up the nerve to watch the surveillance video of the altercation. Though it’s been seven years, the footage took me right back to that small room in the back of the library, when I wasn’t sure if we would all be making it home alive.

Now, I still get chills when I think about what happened that day, and I’m a lot more vigilant everywhere I go. Even during simple trips to the store or movie theater, paranoid thoughts still creep into my mind sometimes. I don’t know if those thoughts will ever completely go away.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from that day, it’s that things like this can happen anywhere, anytime, and the best thing we can do is to always be prepared.

Holly Viers is a general assignment reporter for the Kingsport Times-News.

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