Last Saturday, the folks taking in the new George W. Bush Presidential Center were briefly under the frightening misimpression that it had come under terrorist attack, as reports of an "active shooter" put the center and SMU on lockdown.
Among the visitors were Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower and Going Clear, and Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and Texas Monthly regular. According to Harrigan's account posted yesterday on TM's website, folks prayed, weeped, fainted, ducked behind pillars and huddled on the floor, waiting for shots to ring out. The bombings in Boston and images of methodical men clearing room after room with assault weapons must have been emblazoned in their minds. Here they were, inside a monument to a president who had waged simultaneous war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"For me, at least, there was no sense of surprise, no sense of unfairness," Harrigan writes. "The Bush presidential museum seemed a natural enough place for somebody to target ..."
Of course, the threat proved illusory. But it's nonetheless a fascinating account of terror in the age of Bush's War on Terror. What's even more interesting, though, is the juxtaposition you find in the comment section -- the other side to this non-story story.
Someone named Robin Carr writes a lengthy, detail-rich narrative of the crisis from outside the library, whose particulars match the brief sketch sent to me by SMU police. And at the center of it all? Her husband, who was apparently smoking outside, holding his boy's toy six-shooter. I left a message at a number I believe is Carr's, and I'll update if I hear from her.
According to her account, she, her husband and their 10-year-old son left San Antonio on a guided tour of various Texas attractions. Their first stop was the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco. The boy persuaded his parents to buy him an over-priced toy pistol with a bright orange safety cap at the end. He loved his gun, as little boys do, and engaged imaginary foes in shootouts for the rest of the afternoon.
This continued when they arrived at the Bush Center. In fact, he was much more interested in his gun than he was in 43's interactive "Decision Points:" The Game. The boy continued to wage deadly duels while Carr browsed the center and her husband smoked and watched their son. At some point, the boy needed to use the restroom in the museum, and left his gun with his father because he could not bring it with him. Her husband, Carr writes, told her that he was approached by two separate security guards. The second asked if the gun he held was a cap gun. He said it was, and the security guard called the police. Later, she writes, they'd be told that bystanders saw the pistol in his lap and notified security. At 2:53 that afternoon, police were pointing real guns at his face, ordering him to the ground.
"My son, who has come back, is screaming that it is a toy and his father was holding it for him," she writes. "Meanwhile, a young, immature, and overly zealous policeman gets on top of my husband with his knee in my husband back and places handcuffs on him."
Meanwhile, inside the Bush Center, Carr is lined up against a wall with the rest of the fearful attendees. "However, less than 5 minutes later, the threat is over and I hear someone say that it is just a little boy with a toy gun. Automatically, I realize what has happened and I try to call my husband to find out what is going on. The phone rings a couple of times and finally a strange voice answers and tells me that he is a police man and they are questioning my husband. I immediately tell him that the gun is a toy and I had just bought it for my son. He asked me if I have the receipt and I say yes and I will bring it."
She called the police twice more, only to be told that they would contact her in due course. After two hours, campus police released Carr's husband. She says that a supervising officer promised to mail her the boy's toy gun. "...I simply reply that they can destroy it for all that I care."
You can find an entry on the SMU police website for the story of the toy gun, which paralyzed a presidential library and an entire campus with mortal fear, if only briefly. The incident is listed as "Disorderly Conduct."
"Officers responded to this location to a report of a man with a gun. It was later determined to be a toy gun. Closed."