Sept. 08--NORMAL -- Spencer Brittain had just changed his clothes in the locker room at Normal Community High School and was heading into the hallway when he heard three shots fired and girls screaming.
"Everyone ran into the shower," he said.
"The shots were so close. We thought he would run into the locker room," said Brittain, adding that when he heard a name shouted, he thought someone had been shot.
He and other students were huddled in the showers when Coach Chris Coffey gathered them together and they sprinted into his office.
"We had 25 people in his little office, 23 students and two teachers," said Brittain, an NCHS freshman. They stayed together for 45 minutes until they were released from the lockdown that was put into effect just moments after a freshman fired shots into a classroom ceiling about 8 a.m. Friday. Police said at no time was the gun pointed at any students or staff and no one was hurt.
Brittain and his classmates were among about 1,830 students escorted from the school and across a field to nearby Eastview Christian Church, where they were accounted for before being released to parents or guardians. Because Brittain was changing for physical education, he didn't have his cellphone with him and couldn't initially contact his family.
But teachers and other students shared cellphones to get the word out that they were all safe.
"It was nerve-racking; you don't think it will ever happen here," said his dad, Rodney, as he prepared to take his son home from the church. He added he thought the process went smoothly considering the scary situation.
Sophomore Marika Barker was in her Spanish class when she heard the "Code Red" over the intercom. The lights were turned out in her classroom and everyone gathered in a corner.
"We saw police officers check inside with flashlights and one walked by with an assault riffle," she said.
Wearing her cheerleader uniform and wiping away tears as she left the church, with her mom's arm around her, she remained shaken from the experience several hours later.
"We were definitely very frightened," said her mom, Kara.
At first, some students thought what was going on was a drill because they had been told there would be one in September.
That was the case with Lisa Brinkman's son -- until he saw the police cars from his classroom window.
"It was kind of freaky when the police came into the classroom," said Conner Brinkman. "They yelled for everyone to get their hands up."
The officers were armed with "big guns" -- rifles, not handguns --but they were pointed down, he said.
"I'd never seen anything like this happen before," said Brinkman, a sophomore who was in Spanish class at the time.
Caley Oltman, 14, said she could hear the police shouting through the walls, but it was still a shock when they burst into her classroom.
"I was pretty scared. I was not sure what would happen," she said.
Students were told to have their palms up, and had to leave their backpacks and belongings behind; they were able to pick them up later that afternoon or on Monday.
For Andrew Schrock, "the hardest part was to keep everyone calm. Some were freaking out."
He said he felt it was his responsibility to try and help because his grandfather is police chief in Ellsworth and a role model. He tried to think about that and stay calm until police said they could leave the classroom.
"One (shooting) is one too many," said Schrock, a freshman, who hopes his school gets metal detectors. "I don't want that to happen again. Next time there could be a death."
Copyright 2012 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.