My daughter Kelsey was about to run out of the house we were renting on the Big Island of Hawaii to get her brother, who was down the street at the beach with a few other family members.
I told her to stay, that she has a baby now. She didn’t listen. Her thought was that if we were going to die, we were going to die together and she needed to bring her brother home.
She arrived at the beach where her brother Jared had already gotten the alert on his phone with other beach-goers. Many were running to their cars. The alert said: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It was similar to the alert being repeated on the TV. The U.S. Pacific Command has detected an inbound missile headed to Hawaii. We were to take shelter in our homes. If you were in a car, you were to pull over and find shelter. This is not a drill.
We were on the Big Island of Hawaii to bring together five generations of my family and to introduce the family in Hawaii to my almost 4-month old grandson Oliver. It was our last full day on the Big Island.
My daughter and brother-in-law returned with my son. Most of the family was gathered in the laundry room because it had the least amount of windows. Homes in Hawaii don’t have basements.
I made one phone call, and that was to Tony, my partner in life, laughter and love, as I like to say. I told him what was happening and what little we knew. Back in Minnesota what was happening had not hit the news yet.
We said I love you, and I told him I would call him soon, but I needed to get off the phone and be there for the rest of the family. The truth was I didn’t want him to hear what might happen, or be on the phone while five generations of my family were killed.
We realized that being in the laundry room would not protect us from what we believed was coming, but it felt better to feel like we were trying to survive against something that was completely out of our control.
Horrifically I watched as my children tried to process what was happening. We were all in shock. There were tears. The feeling of terror was thick in the air, but you could see we were all trying to keep it together.
My daughter was holding my grandson who was awake and looked content. I kissed him and was comforted by the thought that he didn’t know what was happening. It was about then that I prayed that if we were going to die that it would happen quickly.
We then talked about how we should find some peace in knowing we are all together. I thought about my two step-kids back in Minnesota, Miles and Dominic.
I contemplated calling or messaging them but decided against it. What we were going through was a burden I didn’t want to put on them. If we weren’t going to make it, they would find out soon enough. I didn’t want them to experience it in real time along with us. I thought about Tony and how grateful I was to share this type of love with him.
At this point I decided that I didn’t want to die in a laundry room. I went out into the living room, turned down the TV, which continued to blare that God-awful alert noise and robot voice that repeated the same message over and over ending with this is not a drill.
I was about to ask my kids, and whoever else wanted to, to join me in the living room overlooking the pool and beautiful outdoors. It was then that someone said they just saw a tweet from a Hawaii senator that said the alert was false and there was no missile heading to Hawaii.
We turned the TV back up to wait for more confirmation, while other family members searched the internet for more hope or confirmation that this was not really happening.
From the time the first alarming alert went out till we knew with 100 percent certainty that a missile was not coming, it was 38 minutes. It was then that new alerts came over our phones and the TV saying it was a false alert. There was no missile heading our way.
Most of us broke down at that point. We cried, then laughed, then cried then laughed for hours. My son and I along with two other family members returned to Minnesota the next day as planned. Most of the family went on to Maui as scheduled.
I’m home safe and sound. Relieved, but at the same time, I still feel incredibly traumatized. Tony had been helping me breathe through the panic attacks.
I’ve seen some funny memes about what happened floating around the internet, and I do find them funny. It’s strange to experience such swings of emotion about the same experience.
I’m still processing what happened. The worst part was witnessing my children experience 38 minutes of pure terror.
Truthfully, I’m proud of the way they handled themselves. I feel like I should be feeling more relief and joy over the fact that five generations of my family didn’t die in one swoop, but the feeling of terror and panic is still fresh.
Part of me is very angry that such a mistake was even possible. My daughter had an asthma attack in the middle of all of it. More so, I’m concerned that we live in a world where a ballistic missile strike on the United States is a real threat. We need to do more to make sure this doesn’t become a reality.
My hope is this mistake serves as a wake-up call and call to action for all of us. We need to do more to create the change needed to bring about a more peaceful world.
My adventures in living life perfectly imperfect are featured in the Sun Sailor, The Lakeshore Weekly News and South Lake Neighbors Magazine.