Friday night gunshots at BayWalk: Happy to be alive, sad at the reality of the situation

Jason and I decided to catch a 9:45 showing of District 9 at the Muvico at BayWalk on Friday Aug. 28. I regularly attend the theater, but it is rare that I see it crowded with punk teenagers. Not expecting a large crowd, we arrived for the show with five minutes to spare. As we neared the theater, the volume of voices reached an obnoxious level and the ticket line spilled out the doors. Shit. A movie must be opening tonight — The Final Destination, we soon realized. As we waited in line, I felt slightly uneasy; I'm not a fan of unnecessary rowdiness, but kids will be kids....I guess. We stood in line for about 20 minutes and when we reached the counter the cashier asked us if we wanted to catch the 10:20 show, since it was already 10:05.  We accepted the later time, not knowing it would directly change the course of events in our near future.

As I watched District 9 I thought about how guns give people power. It is something I always think about when I watch a flick with a helpless character who suddenly gains control because he/she — in whatever way — accumulates a weapon. It is really quite scary. And so are guns. And that is what I tell people when they ask me what I think about guns and gun control. I don't get into politics, I don't talk about how my dad never kept one by his bedside, I simply look them in the eye and say, "Guns scare me."

The lobby was fairly quiet as we left the movie theater. We made it across the open courtyard and as the street came into view I realized all of the kids who had been in the movies were now hanging out on the sidewalk that runs along the BayWalk side of Second Ave. N. We picked up our pace and I tried to ignore the unruliness that surrounded us by mindlessly telling Jason biographical facts about the main character in District 9. I knew there had been a shooting at BayWalk in the past, and the one other time we were at the movies and there was a large crowd of kids, we witnessed a bad fight. Call me a scaredy-cat, but I was not in the mood for trouble.

We were no more than a few feet from stepping onto the road to get to our final destination — the parking garage — when the shooting occurred. If I had to make an educated guess, the car came from my left and couldn't have been more than 30 feet away. After turning right and taking off in a dead sprint, we made another sharp right and ran back toward the courtyard. Jason hastily steered us into the first safe spot — a covered, open-ended hallway; a few moments later a security guard (who was standing near the hallway) told us to run back to the movie theater.

Here is where I get upset. The theater doors were already closed, with a cop and staff members waiting for people to run inside. As we made it into the lobby, I finally slowed down and tried to process what had just happened. Shaking and panting, I looked up, and two teenage girls were pointing at me and Jason, cracking up at our state of unrest.

For a second I thought, "Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe those were fireworks." But they weren't.

The reaction of these girls and the casual and amused looks on other kids' faces were enraging and sickening. It disgusts me to no end that such young people can take such little value in human life. Thank goodness no one died and there were no injuries; but seriously, have we not learned that gun violence is no laughing matter? Ever.

At the beginning of the month, the City Council voted to forge ahead with the privatization of BayWalk's sidewalk and the increase of complex security. The project will cost a large sum of money and has proved to be a controversial issue.  I don't know what is going to happen with that plan, but whatever it is, it won't stop gun violence in St. Petersburg. As sad as I am that I no longer feel safe attending nighttime movies at the complex, I feel more helpless at the idea that for many of the children and teenagers who were there that night, the gunfire was no big deal.

[Note: The records division at the St. Petersburg Police Department confirmed on Aug. 31 that the gunshots occurred. Details will not be released until the report is finalized next week.]

It all happened so quickly. After I heard the first gunshot, a liquid heat consumed my body; my inner ears were on fire and a tingling sensation ran from my head to my toes. Is this real? There was screaming and panic. My tunnel vision kicked in and I turned to the right and started sprinting. My boyfriend Jason's hand was on my back, pushing me, silently urging me to run faster. The shots didn't stop. I shoved everyone in my path out of the way — there was no way I was slowing down. I waited for a bullet to hit my calf, my thigh, my back, my head. For a few moments, frozen in time, I was sure I was going to die. It was just like a nightmare. Except it was real. It was Friday night. And it was at BayWalk in downtown St. Petersburg.

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