The back story: On lockdown at Landmark
I was getting ready to leave Landmark Medical Center just past 7 p.m. on Thursday Feb. 20 when the announcement came over the intercom. "Code Silver" a calm female voice announced, then repeated. I was visiting a nephew who had just been through an emergency appendix surgery and he, still pale and in recovery, and my sister, his mother, made light of the strange announcement.
"Do they not use 'code red' anymore because it sounds too scary?" I asked, somewhat naively. We forgot about the announcement until a few moments later when a nurse came in.
"The hospital is on lockdown," she told us. "We're asking everyone to stay put for now while police handle the situation. Apparently a man came to into the ER with a shotgun."
It was quiet in the hospital room. We were on a separate floor and on the opposite side of the building, and business in the wing mostly seemed to be continuing as usual. But my reporter instincts kicked in and I logged in to Twitter.
"Landmark hospital in #Woonsocket on lockdown. Man reportedly came into ER with a shotgun. More to follow," I wrote.
Soon, dozens of police officers including state troopers and a SWAT team, would descend upon the facility.
The window from my nephew's room looked out onto a quiet courtyard. No blinking lights or sirens there, and it looked like my information would be limited to whatever I could garner from hospital staff.
We overheard that the hospital was surrounded... that the perpetrator was outdoors. A quick chat with a male nurse taught me that "code red" is reserved for fires while "code silver" indicates there's a gun on the premises.
I simply couldn't stay put' any longer. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it kept the journalist well fed.
I went for a walk fully expecting someone to stop me, to tell me not to take that elevator to the ground floor or to head in the direction of the emergency room.
Approaching the entrance of the ER waiting room, I peaked through the window. The flashing lights from emergency vehicles outside shone brighter than the fluorescents covering the well-lit lobby, which seemed to be empty. Cautiously, I opened the door.
At the check-in desk Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Carey stood alone. He was on his phone receiving updates, presumably from others monitoring the situation from outside.
"I wouldn't go out there," Carey said of the exit. For better or worse, the always friendly and accommodating chief is accustomed to seeing my face in the middle of all kinds of emergency situations, so the look I received conveyed only mild confusion. After all, I've been covering breaking news in Woonsocket for nearly four years.
"Be careful," he advised.
Like so many times in my career as a reporter, I knew that while I technically could probably get much more information if I was willing to be a nuisance, it was more important for me to get out of the way and let police do their jobs.
Just one problem stood in my way: the door I had come through had locked behind me. I was in the middle of a triangular-shaped hallway with three doors. One led to the ER waiting room and then to the parking lot beyond. Definitely off limits. The other two were locked. Around this time a man in all black with a very large badge followed by another man in what appeared to be full military gear, carrying a large rifle, passed by, going through one of the locked doors.
Finally admitting to myself that I was nervous and that this walk wasn't my best idea, I texted my sister.
"Locked out," I wrote. "Stuck in the hallway downstairs."
Still, I continued posting the bits of information I'd garnered on Twitter.
"Chief Carey in ER waiting area getting intel now. Said troopers are here and one is negotiator. Advised me 'be careful'"
The two law enforcement officials came back through the locked door and held it open for me. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I continued asking questions, tweeting and occasionally offering a comforting word to the poor nephew who was going in and out of sleep for the next hour.
My Twitter followers thanked me for keeping them informed. Outside, it seemed, they had finally detained a suspect at gunpoint. No one had been hurt, reports said. That bit of information I learned not from the nurses, but from others on Twitter also covering the incident, only from an entirely different perspective.
By the time the "code clear" announcement finally came over the intercom, my poor, sick nephew had even gone online to see what I posted.
I made my exit telling him to text me if he needed anything.
You have to love technology.