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A Month Later: Santa Fe Tragedy Remembered
by John David Suayan
Monday, June 18, 2018

Editor’s note: Guidry News Service Associate John David Suayan works at Santa Fe High School as part of his teacher certification program. He was at the campus when the tragic events of May 18, 2018 unfolded. Here is his first-person account.

Half-asleep and slightly fueled by Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, I walked into a dark, balmy classroom for what I thought was going to be the last day I would sub for the spring semester. Just a matter of weeks before a truly unforgettable year in the nine-decade existence of Santa Fe High School reached its conclusion. It had also been two days since I completed the first part of my internship a few doors down from where I was – with a solid B – so my mood was chipper.

The bell signaled the start of the day. First period was a free hour for me so I availed myself to the teacher next door. His agenda for the lone class I took over for him was simple: a video pitting the Special Forces against their North Korean counterparts in a simulated battle. I assumed the students would like it despite wishing they were still in their beds. After successfully getting the video as well as the sound to work, I took attendance. The kids' eyes were focused either on the screen or their phones.

Beep! Beep! Beep! The day was barely half an hour old and a fire alarm went off. The students didn't seem to mind since it was a tiny respite from class. We left the room and headed towards the exit. I scanned the open field in the back of the school to see where my class had gathered. Before I could spot a familiar-looking student, a loud, panicked voice boomed from what was the right side of the premises. Run! Run! The voice belonged to a teacher though I didn’t see who it was. I couldn’t help but think that he yelled for us to run because an inferno was raging inside. Several of the students began to jog further away; I did so as well. The same teacher’s voice grew more urgent and was joined by those of other teachers. Run! Run! Get out of here! Go!  Go! Run! Run! I turned to the kids around me and beckoned them to do what they were told.  Run!

Amidst the hurried frenzy, I caught a glimpse of Joe Raitano Stadium. Four police cars were
stationed near the other side of the school. Then I heard approximately three faint popping
noises followed by a haunting chorus of sirens wailing from Highway 6. Things became scarier
at that point. I picked up the pace while breathlessly directing students to flee. This wasn’t a
fire, but something more dangerous.

The throng turned towards the backroad ahead. A police vehicle here, another there. Other
motorists stopped. Many students were on their phones, trying to find out what caused them to
literally run for their lives. Several of them appeared shocked, scared, teary-eyed, on the verge
of breaking down, etc. A cloud of uncertainty blanketed everyone, including the teachers. What
was certain was the school day was not like any other. I thought about my dad, who I presumed
was at home drinking coffee and watching TV at the time. I thought about my girlfriend and
how I could’ve uttered one last “I love you” to her. I thought about where we were going. The
normally unassuming, peaceful Tower Road was anything but. We eventually settled in the
parking lot of a Chevron.

The emergency vehicles racing along Highway 6 piqued my concern. Police cars, ambulances,
and perhaps some fire trucks cordoned off the stretch of the road in front of the school.
Meanwhile, at the Chevron, teachers, other staff members, and some representatives from the
administration building were immersed in a desperate yet meticulous headcount of students.
Hugs, handshakes, and pats on the back were exchanged. I’m happy you’re okay, Mr. Suayan.
Thanks, but I’m more worried about you. I’m glad you’re okay.
We all wanted information.
We all wanted to go home. We all wanted to wake up from the ongoing nightmare. My phone rang and beeped every few seconds. Worried relatives, friends, and my girlfriend yearned to
know my whereabouts and about my well-being. A few of them offered to pick me up, to which
I declined because I wanted to lend a helping hand. I bought one young man a Gatorade and I
paid for a girl and her mother’s breakfast purchase. I called my dad informing him of the
situation. I contacted my mom, who is on vacation in the Philippines, through Messenger. The
world kept spinning except in Santa Fe, Texas. It may had been in the lower 80s that day, but
time was frozen.

I then learned the school was the site of a mass shooting. The details came in bits and pieces.
As with any catastrophic event, rumors tend to abound within the early moments. I couldn’t
bring myself to scour the news on my phone as I was teetering between shock and denial. Plus,
my battery was on its last legs. The principal summoned us and announced that school buses
were transporting staff and any remaining students to one of the school district’s old facilities.
Parents came rushing to the Chevron hoping to be reunited with their children. Throughout the
morning, nearly all the students we led away from the school were fetched. The parking lot
returned close to normal as school employees boarded the buses. We soon headed to the
designated evacuation spot, the Alamo Gym, some two miles away.

An uneasy and emotional vigil ensued after our arrival. A fellow substitute teacher told me that
she tried to contact a colleague to no avail. Another one was believed to have been shot and
taken to the hospital. We twice formed a prayer circle at center court. Santa Fe is a place
steadfast in its religious faith even in its darkest days with this day being no different. Clear
Creek ISD sent a team of counselors to speak to anyone who needed a sympathetic ear while the
HEB across the street donated snacks and drinks. The principal provided us with updates as best
as she could. As the morning gave way to the afternoon, we started to get a grimmer picture of what had occurred. I finally went home after the principal gave us the okay to do so. The
district’s transportation head was kind enough to give me and another substitute teacher a ride.
The first thing I did after I got home was recite the Rosary with my younger brother. I mustered
the courage to turn the TV on. How surreal it was seeing the school I wish to have my very own
classroom at in addition to several people I know or whose faces I recognize on every news
channel.

The next day, one of the social studies teachers called me to say that we were allowed to retrieve
our belongings. I went to get my backpack with my laptop inside. Entering the school, which
was by then a huge crime scene, made for a heart wrenching ordeal. It was like walking into a
funeral home; I did my best not to look down the main hallway toward the fine arts wing. Once
again, it felt as if time stopped ticking. I am forever grateful to the school resource officer who
accompanied me. She understood the gamut of emotions I underwent for those few minutes we
were permitted to set foot on campus.

The shooting which caused the schoolwide exodus that warm, sunny May morning claimed the
lives of eight students and two teachers, ten beloved members of our Santa Fe Indian tribe. It has
been nearly 40 days since the world lost Mrs. Perkins, Mrs. Tisdale, Shana, Sabika, Riley, Jared,
Kyle, Kim, Angelique, and Chris. According to Filipino Catholic tradition, it’s on the 40th day
the soul of the faithfully departed rightfully and ultimately takes his or her place next to God in
Heaven. May 18 changed a small, tight-knit community near the western edge of Galveston
County forever. Though I do not have roots in Santa Fe, the tragedy made me realize how proud
I am to be a part of the green and gold fabric. I hope and pray that The Lord be with my adopted
town as it tries to recover and move forward. #SantaFeStrong




Remembering Jim Guidry Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership


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