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What It Was Like to Be in Ottawa During the Shooting

10/23/2014 04:48 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST
Jim Bronskill/CP

Answer by Gerry Matthews, lives and works in Ottawa:

I both live and work within a couple of kilometres of Parliament Hill.

I first heard about it when a co-worker received a Facebook message about an incident at the National War Memorial, where a ceremonial guardsman and reservist was shot. Later we found out that shots had been fired inside the Parliament buildings, but very little was known or confirmed for a long, long time.

Our building's PA system advised us to close our blinds and stay away from any windows. Our BlackBerry network was overloaded, so there was no way to reach my wife except by borrowing the phone of someone who did not work close to a window.

My son goes to high school downtown, and he was in lock down for five hours. My wife was alone at home, also downtown. We were all trying to get whatever information we could. Our director-general had the TV in our boardroom turned on so we could keep up with things.

There is a deli on the first floor of our building, but we were not allowed to go down to ground level. They were allowed to set up shop and sell food out of a boardroom on the seventh floor. I always bring my lunch, but many people prefer to buy theirs, and the lineup was apparently very long.

Once we found out there was only the one soldier and the shooter dead (as if that wasn't enough for one day), we were a bit relieved. The government and opposition parties were meeting behind closed doors on opposite sides of the Hall of Honour, where the shots inside Parliament took place, and the lives of our elected officials were in very real danger. So knowing that this particular situation was resolved was a source of real relief.

It became clear pretty early on that we were safe inside our building. At that point it just became a question of how long we would be required to stay there. My son's school was let out at 2:50 (10 minutes early). Our lock down was lifted around 4:00. For those who worked a block or two north of us, it continued into the evening. We watched the CBC to hear the statements from the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, who pledged his support to the government in this crisis. Both said what one would hope to hear from them, but the opposition leader said something else that struck me, and that I appreciated, which is that the attacks came from a hateful mind, but that we should not allow these attacks to make us hateful.

This morning I am back in the office. Parliament will sit at 10 a.m. as scheduled. But there is a feeling that something has changed. We all knew we were vulnerable to something like this, but until it happens, you don't think about it much. Today we are thinking about it quite a bit. I worry about my son -- not for his physical safety, but about his mindset. He's 14 and at an age where things like this can affect him, but in ways he might not realize or understand quite yet.

I hope nobody ever has to go through something like this again, but I know it happens every day, all over the world. We're not special. In fact, we've just joined a club that nobody wants to be a part of.

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