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Texas school shooting: Harrowing story details one Santa Fe student's escape

Chron logo Chron 5/19/2018 Dana Burke

People embrace in prayer behind Texas First Bank during a vigil for the victims of the Santa Fe High School mass shooting Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas.

People embrace in prayer behind Texas First Bank during a vigil for the victims of the Santa Fe High School mass shooting Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas.
© Godofredo A. Vasquez, Houston Chronicle

Late at night, after a day of terror came to a close and a Santa Fe High School student finally slept, her mother sat down and wrote a painfully detailed account of May 18, 2018.

Deedra Van Ness entitled the Facebook note "The longest day of my life."

Van Ness' daughter, Isabelle, hid in the closet during the Friday morning mass shooting in an art classroom with other students, some of whom died next to her.

Van Ness got a call from Isabelle while the gunman's bullets flew.

"As I answer the phone, she is whispering and I can barely understand her," Van Ness writes. "Then I hear her whisper...mom, they are shooting up the school, I'm hiding in a closet. I love you mom. In the background I hear gunfire. I beg her to stay on the phone and she says other kids with her want to call their parents and don't have phones."

Hours later, Isabelle apologized to her mother for calling and upsetting her.

READ THE ENTIRE POST IN GRAY MATTERS: At Santa Fe High School, my daughter phoned: 'I'm hiding in a closet. I love you, Mom.'

The family was finally reunited after her parents waited outside all day, watching one busload after another drop off children.

"We watch these children walk off looking lost while their eyes search the crowds for their loved ones," Van Ness writes.

When Isabelle finally arrived, her parents rushed her home, where Isabelle's brother, Kam, told his parents tearfully that his best friend died in the shooting, and Isabelle began to talk about the attack.

"There's a door at the back of the room to which the kids are running...only to discover the door is locked and they are trapped. Seeing the kids turning back from the door, she immediately starts running towards items to hide behind.

"She's moving from item to item as the gunman continues to fire into the classroom. She is now covered in dust from the bullets hitting the walls around her. Kids are scrambling trying to hide / escape and she finds an area where he can't see her, but she can see him. She finally runs for the supply closet where she and 6 other kids hide. They are able to lock one door and begin blocking the other door as another girl runs into the closet with them. As they are moving heavy items in front of the door, the gunman screams...Surprise M*****F****** and begins shooting into the closet. The gunman hits 3 of the 8 kids in the closet...killing 2 of them instantly. He leaves to chase other kids who ran out of the room and they hear more gun shots. Then he comes back."

Isabelle told her parents that she called police during the shooting and was told that help was on the way. She could hear the gunman yelling "Woo Hoo!" as he fired shots into the classroom next door.

He then returned to Isabelle's classroom and shot into the closet where she was hiding once again. She heard the police as they arrived and the gunman surrender before he was taken into custody.

At home, students were reaching out to each other on social media, or watching live television coverage while they waited to hear about the status of their missing or injured classmates, Van Ness said.

As her family tried to comfort her and process their own grief, Isabelle became determined to share her experience, after hearing accounts of the day from other students, some of whom blamed her on social media for not doing more to help her classmates.

"Isaelle becomes more and more upset over the TV, as they are interviewing people that weren't in the area where the gunman was and they are reporting incorrect information," Van Ness writes.

Meanwhile, the family learned of other friends and family members who were victims of the shooting. One of those victims is Isabelle and Kam's cousin, Van Ness said.

Isabelle tried to visit with other students who were not near the shooting area, and finds she is unable to do so, so the family returned home.

"We get home and she asks her daddy if she can sleep with me. He left to go take care of Kam and I'm sitting her watching her sleep. I'm so proud of her and her bravery and caring heart," Van Ness writes.

"She saved herself, called the policy, shared her phone with others who were afraid, spoke to a reporter to share her story, and stayed strong until she was able to transfer her burden to us. So far, she's sleeping peacefully. No tossing, turning... nothing I anticipated. But as she dreams, she knows that I'm sitting her watching over her and I hope that's enough for her to find peace in her slumber."

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