By Kody Acevedo
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — “You never think it could happen here…not here…why here?”
Those are some of the clichés we hear after every mass shooting, so much so that gun violence is starting to become the status quo in America.
But let me tell you, it can happen: anywhere, any time.
I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Until two weeks ago, I was one of those guys who walked around saying the same thing: “It won’t happen here. This will be the last place it will happen if it does.”
I’m not talking about Phoenix or Tempe; I’m talking about my home town of San Bernardino.
It’s true that the Valley has become my home away from home over the last few years while I attend ASU. From this point forward, Arizona will always have a special place in my heart. But California will always be home.
I was born and raised in Redlands and the surrounding cities of Highland and San Bernardino. Up until this past Dec. 2, the “Inland Empire” as it’s known in the Southland, was largely unknown to people not familiar with the area.
For example, when I first arrived at ASU, people associated my home with Los Angeles. “Oh, you are from L.A.?” “How close are you to Malibu? Do you ever see any actors or celebrities?”
Quite the opposite, actually. Los Angeles, with traffic factored in, is about the distance from Tempe to Tucson. We have our own way of life here. San Bernardino and Redlands are large towns, but both communities seem to be connected in one way or another.
That’s one of the reasons this particular terror attack was so devastating.
I was in my friend Jeanna’s car that Wednesday afternoon. She and I were driving to Tempe from ASU’s downtown Phoenix campus to attend our final American Indian History class of the semester. It really wasn’t our typical Wednesday since the semester was just about over and we had plans to go Christmas shopping later that afternoon.
But then my phone buzzed. I looked down to see who had texted me only to find a CNN Push Notification on my screen. At 12:37 p.m., the following message appeared:
“San Bernardino, California, fire department tweets that it is responding to reports of a mass shooting.” (I took a screen shot because I knew this was something I would want to remember.)
I realized right then and there that the name San Bernardino would be changed forever. I didn’t know how bad it was just yet, but I knew it would soon join the “Sandy Hook,” “Gabby Giffords” and “Columbine” list.
Little did I know it would actually be more appropriate to move it over to the “World Trade Center” list. As the day went on, it became abundantly clear that ISIS was responsible for this attack that killed 14 and injured over 20. Not directly, I suppose, but the two perpetrators of this horrific tragedy doubtless were influenced by radical Muslim ideologies.
I knew as soon as it was confirmed that the United States was just attacked, once again, by terrorists. The war in the Middle East had officially made its way to America and my home town was its first victim.
Needless to say, I can’t tell you a lick of what we talked about that day in American Indian History. I was glued to Twitter and kept a stream of CNN going in the corner of my laptop screen. I had never felt further from home than I did at that moment.
My first thought, of course, was of my family, most of whom still live in town. My dad, who was working on duty as a firefighter that day, might have been at the scene, and who knew if the shooter was still on the loose. Turns out, Dad was still at his station in Highland and wouldn’t be going to the scene, but the shooters were still at large. They could’ve ended up anywhere.
The Inland Regional Center is located on Waterman Avenue, which is right off I-10 West. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t go eastbound into town.”
(Turns out that’s exactly what they did, and their apartment was closer to my house than the actual crime scene. Go figure.)
I’ve spent a lot of time in the area where the shootings occurred. The center is not very far from a shopping center that houses the closest Costco and Sam’s Club. There’s also an In-N-Out and BJ’s nearby. It was possible somebody I knew was down there. But I heard from my parents, who reassured me they were okay and everyone we knew was fine. I still kept my phone in hand checking Twitter and reading updates just in case.
Fortunately, no one directly related to me was killed or injured in the shooting. Still, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around what happened.
I know people that grew up with some of the victims. My Mom, a Realtor in town, spent a lot of time in the apartment complex the police raided in Redlands. Not their unit, obviously, but in the same complex and in units that were feet away from explosives and automatic weapons.
It just goes to show: you never know who is living in your neighborhood. Yes, it can happen here. It can happen anywhere.