I went to a family reunion in Twin Falls, Idaho this weekend (I'll tell more about that later). Twin Falls is the town where my Dad grew up and my grandma, Aunt Linda, and some of my cousins still live there. It's a very small town with something like 32,000 residents; you can drive around the city in about 20 minutes and end up where you started. The only movie theater in town doesn't accept debit cards. Driving around town, my dad picks out all the major sites of his childhood: the sub station where he'd have fights after elementary school, my great-grandma's old house, and the intersection where three of his friends were killed in a tragic car accident. He still remembers where certain friends lived, the first and last name of his girlfriend in 6th grade, and where his family used to buy groceries every week. It holds a lot of memories for my Dad and it means a lot to my family.
We drove the sickening 15 hours on Thursday and when I awoke Friday morning, my parents were already gone to go visit my grandma in her care facility. My mom called me asked if I would check the news reports to see why there was about 100 police officers holding machine guns standing outside our hotel when they left that morning. My dad had gone into our hallway that morning to find a 7 foot tall, beast of a man in a SWAT uniform carrying a gun bigger than me.
I hopped online and found a Twin Falls news website and, lo and behold, the top headline was about a gunman in the Hampton Inn who was holding the 3rd floor hostage. An officer had been shot and a body was visible on the lobby floor from outside. The worst part was, I couldn't remember the name of the hotel I was staying in. Was I in the Hampton or the Holiday Inn next door? After a panicked phone call to my mom, I was reassured to find out that I was NOT in the hotel under siege, but I was still a few hundred feet away.
The gunman was being pulled over by a cop on the interstate when he pulled away suddenly and led the cop on a high speed chase into Twin Falls. He crashed into an RV on the street and made a break for it, running into the Hampton Inn where he shot a police officer and shot and killed an innocent civilian staying at the hotel. After holding a female hostage in the third floor stairwell for 1 hour 30 minutes, negotiators finally apprehended the gunman and he's been taken into custody.
I was staying in the hotel right next door on the third floor. The man shot in the Hampton was coming down the elevator probably about the same time as my Dad came down the elevator to get breakfast that morning. The gunman could have crashed somewhere closer to my hotel, ran into the Holiday Inn instead, and my entire morning could've gone differently.
I think we sometimes take for granted that each day is given to us as a gift and we have no idea when our last day will be. This family reunion took on a different tone for me because I began to understand how quickly things can change and how one innocent man from Utah staying in a hotel in tiny, potato farming town lost his life to a maniac.
Do you know what the gunman wanted? Alcohol and cigarettes.