After the shooting, scary hours for Downtown parents

By Jane Flanagan

A tragedy last week at City Hall. A popular Brooklyn councilmember’s life cut in half, his family grieving and his constituents mourning the loss of one of their most prominent voices.

And for those of us who live Downtown, another scary day. When I first heard about the gunshots at City Hall, I was sitting at my desk at work. My son, Rusty, 5, was with my babysitter. Where, I wasn’t exactly sure.

I called Veera on her cell phone. She and Rusty were at a pool in Lower Manhattan having fun.

I tuned into a radio for details. I heard that the perpetrator was in hand, possibly dead.

Thank God.

I went back to my desk. But, I couldn’t concentrate. I wanted to know more about what happened. I stood up and walked back over to the radio.

Then I heard. The gunman was NOT in hand. He was at large. I then learned that the Brooklyn Bridge, nearby subways and tunnels were shut. The area was in “lockdown.”

“At large? Lockdown?”

I know how much armed security there is at City Hall. I thought, “If this guy is at large, well, he’s got to be more than just a lone, crazy person. How did he get out of there?”

I tried to calm myself with other possibilities. Perhaps, he was successfully hiding inside.

“But a lone, crazy person — would he be able to do that?”

I returned to my desk, but I couldn’t concentrate.

The thoughts kept coming.

“Is this a terrorist?”

“Are they planning anything else? Should I leave my office now to get my child?”

I’m a natural hysteric. I realize not everyone jumps to such terrifying suppositions.

But I’m a mom. I was here with my son on 9/11. So I suppose anytime that anything of this proportion happens I’ll always get hysterical until convinced otherwise.

I started calling Veera.

After assuring myself that she and Rusty were O.K., I contemplated what to do next.

“Should I tell her to go home immediately? Stay put? Should I go to her and Rusty now?”

I decided to stay at work. I kept telling myself not to let my hysterical nature get the better of me. It was somewhere between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (The gunshots had occurred at 2:08 p.m.) I had a deadline to meet.

I kept half an ear cocked to the goings on around me. One colleague had the radio on low, another was checking news Web sites. I tried to tune out any information that would make me more hysterical — updates on the number of shots fired, how many people were being taken out on stretchers, more tunnel closings. I listened for one piece of information.

It came shortly after 5 p.m.

“The gunman was killed,” said my editor, reading off a Web site. “He was killed right away.”

Thank God.

I worked the remainder of the day. Walking home I discovered that I was exhausted. When I got there my son was happily playing with his toy cars. Veera was relaxed, just curious to know what happened.

But a nagging thought continued.

“Why, if the gunman was killed right away, didn’t the police and the mayor know it? Why did they say he was at large? Why did I have to be scared like that?”

I called up the police press office.

Det. Kevin Czartoryski, a spokesperson, explained. It seems that after the shots rang out, the police were left with two dead bodies and a missing shooter. At first they thought that Richard Burt, the police officer who killed the gunman, might have been the perpetrator. Burt was new to City Hall and police there didn’t know him. He was filling in on Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s protection detail. Burt was also in plainclothes. After he killed the gunman, he fled the Council chamber to locate Miller. The police didn’t know where he went.

And while they had the dead body of the gunman, they didn’t know he was the gunman. They didn’t know who he was.

Well, I certainly understand that.

I just hope I don’t have to spend another afternoon like that anytime soon.