MATTOON -- Ericka Miller was in Mattoon High School's halls at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday when she heard an intercom announcement that the school was on "lock down" and that the students needed to get out of the building.
"At first I thought it was just a drill, but then everyone started freaking out and everything was crazy. I did not know where to go. It was scary. Everyone just took off running everywhere," Ericka said. She and several of her classmates ended up running to a nearby cornfield. Their flight from the school occurred after one student reportedly shot and wounded another student in the cafeteria.
Ericka's mother, Heidi Miller, was working in Shelbyville at the time and was unaware of the incident until she received a text message from her daughter saying, "I'm OK." Miller said she quickly called to find out why her daughter was "OK" and then she "kind of flew home" from Shelbyville.
"As a parent. It's one of your worst nightmares. You hope it never actually happens," Miller said, adding that she was determined to see her daughter as soon as possible. "(As a parent) you really have to physically see them to put your mind at ease. You are a mess. You are sick to your stomach."
Miller and her daughter soon reunited at their home along Marion Avenue about a block from the school. There, they hung out with Ericka's fellow junior classmate, Kenadie Eaton, as they watched the dozens of police officers finishing up their work around the school after the shooter was apprehended and the victim was taken to the hospital. Kenadie said she was at home for lunch at the time of the shooting.
Freshman Dallas Cunningham said he was in the high school building when the shots were fired.
“It was pretty scary,” Cunningham said. “I was in class and they had us all move out fast.”
Senior Evan True said he was on a field trip to Lake Land College when his girlfriend called him just after 11:30 a.m.
“She was crying,” True said. “She said there had been five shots fired in the cafeteria and they had all been told to go outside.”
True said he believed the shooting suspect had been bullied in school.
“We can’t tolerate bullying. Everybody has their differences, but we’ve all got to figure a way to get along,” True said.
Marion Avenue resident Katherine Bennett said she was at home when she heard from her adult son, who was outside doing lawn work, that there had been a shooting at the nearby school.
"I have nieces and nephews at the school, and I just panicked," Bennett said. Looking outside, she saw police officers and parents "everywhere."
Bennett said she walked down the street to a possible impromptu gathering point for students and she spoke to a couple of them who had witnessed the shooting in the cafeteria. She later found out that her nieces and nephews, along with their classmates, were taken by school district buses to Riddle Elementary School for pickup by their families.
Shirley Davis, who lives at Marion and 26th Street, said her grown daughter heard that emergency responders were rushing to the shooting scene and called to warn her to "lock my doors and stay inside." Davis said she later looked outside and saw many parents trying to get to the scene. She said her heart went out to these parents.
"You are desperate to find out if you child is OK and you can't get to them to find out what is going on," Davis said. "They were parking anywhere they could park and running that direction."
Mattoon resident Shaynne Von Behren said he heard about the shooting via a 911 scanner posting online and headed to the neighborhood to see if his sister, who lives there, was all right. Von Behren said he ended up helping direct traffic as a stream of concerned parents, plus everyday through traffic, backed up at 26th and Marshall.
Von Behren said he fashioned a sign and held it to help tell parents that their students were being taken to Riddle Elementary School.
"People were worried and wanting to know where their kids were and wanted to know how they could get to them," Von Behren said.