I am from a small town that the nation had never really heard of. I had never seen our name in major headlines. I had never heard of a president tweeting about us. But last week we were hit with a mass shooting and a wildfire that have devastated our little city. I have lived in Thousand Oaks for most of my life, but last week changed us, individually and as a community.
I have friends who were woken by sirens at 11:30 Wednesday night. I know parents who heard the gunshots. I’ve met students who were present during the shooting and others who had gone home early. Being from the Conejo Valley, we are all connected to the victims, in some way. We all received text messages and phone calls throughout the night and early morning asking if we were okay. And while we processed during the day that a mass shooting had occurred in our home town, many of us were evacuated later that night.
I packed up my three children and two dogs and had to evacuate in total darkness. I drove through smoke and ash, trying to get to my safe house in Woodland Hills, only for the freeway to be shut down right in front of me. While my husband drove into a sea of red tail lights, I managed to exit the freeway just in time. I turned around and headed back through the smoke and ash to take a different freeway out of there.
This would have been uncomfortable and difficult if I had been by myself, but caring for an entire car of living breathing beings took a lot of prayer. It’s hard to stay calm when you have that much adrenaline coursing through your body and each breath burns as you inhale.
Even once we arrived in Woodland Hills, we could only stay twenty-four hours before the fire shifted and evacuated West Hills, right next door. We were lucky enough to be able to go back home at that point, but 48 hours later we were once again evacuated because a fire erupted right behind our house. We threw our kids in the car, grabbed the dogs, and with less than five minutes to get out, I was still in a bathrobe and no shoes.
That moment right there terrified me. We thought the danger was gone. We thought the fire had passed us, but somehow, in seconds, it was in our backyard.
Thankfully we were still packed and had most of our belongings in the car. But there were many who were not so lucky. There are some who can never come home.
I feel like I have been exhausted for over a week. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually. But I sit here today, thankful and proud of a community who has rallied together to support victims of gunfire and wildfire. I have seen families raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, seemingly over night. Fire stations have been overrun with supplies. Blood drives are turning people away because they are at capacity. Restaurants are feeding first responders from their own pocket, as well as donations from the community. We are not only united in our heartbreak but, also, in our compassion. I feel honored to call Thousand Oaks home. #TOstrong