• Ashley Nicole

Running For Our Lives

I must say, there is nothing like a good adventure film, sitting on the edge of your seat, with absolutely no idea what’s around the corner. Your heart is pumping in your chest, as you sit and watch with great anticipation. Experiencing something like this in real life, however, is slightly less pleasurable and quite a bit more terrifying.

A few weeks ago, I spent the day with my sister in Toronto. Without knowing it, we had decided to meet up the exact day that the Toronto Raptors basketball victory parade had been scheduled, last minute. Our day began with a relaxing morning of eating homemade French Toast and catching up, but little did we know, that at the end we would be looking back at the most terrifying day of our lives. Here is what happened.

My younger sister had some activities planned for us to do throughout the day, to celebrate my wedding on the upcoming weekend. After spending some time at her place, we decided to brave the city, despite the crazy victory parade that had been scheduled after we had already made the plan to meet that day – a parade that was expected to have 2 million attendees.

We took the subway to our stop, then headed up to the main streets. Much to our dismay, it was a nightmare to walk through the streets. There were people everywhere and eventually the crowds became so thick that we couldn’t even get past them to where we were trying to go. We quickly realized that we needed a change of plans, in order to proceed with our day, so we decided to go to another district and go window shopping, followed by some lunch.

Our final plan before I was to leave the city, was to go to the mall for a bit of shopping. After walking back towards the giant crowds and finding numerous exits blocked off by security, we made it to the main entrance and were finally able to get into the mall.

The mall was ridiculously busy, as so many people had gone there after the parade had finished. We managed to get in a bit of shopping before deciding that it was time to get going, so that I could make it to my wedding hair trial, scheduled for that evening. Just as we were getting to the top of the escalator, we heard tremendous amounts of sound like loud thumping, coming from behind us, on the floor that we were just about to get onto. As we turned around to see what in the world was going on, we could see everyone in the mall RUNNING for dear life.

Panic. At this point, it was only a few seconds until we were at the top of the escalator and had to decide what to do. Our minds and bodies went into autopilot safety mode and we too, began to run for our lives. We had absolutely no idea what was going on, but we had to assume that there was something dangerous coming from behind us and we just had to get out of the way. My mind started to wonder if perhaps there was a shooter in the mall, as I had heard so many stories of shooters who targeted places with loads of people, and today, the mall was jam-packed.

Our heart rates rose as my sister and I started running through the mall. “Where are we going??” I yelled. We had no idea where was safe – if we needed to get into a shop or exit the mall as soon humanly possible. We kept running until suddenly my sister disappeared from beside me and I could hear her frantically yelling my name. Shops had started pulling their blinds closed and locking the doors, basically going into lock-down mode. Holly had made it into one of the shops, and I ran back just in time for her to grab me and pull me in, as they fully shut the blinds and locked them up.

There were all sorts of people in the shop, and we were all guided back, towards the dressing rooms, where we sat down, shut the doors and turned off the lights. At this point, Holly and I were hyperventilating and slightly shaking, as we recounted to the two ladies that were already in the dressing room, as they had been in the store the whole time and had no idea what was going on.

After some time, the ladies who worked in the store moved everyone to the dressing room to a storage room that was even further back. At this point, people began to talk and one of the stories that came up was that there was a shooting. People also began to look around and check in with one another, to make sure everyone was alright - especially those who seemed to be alone or especially traumatized.

Not too long after, there was an announcement over the mall instructing us to evacuate. We were taken out of the back room and into a back entrance into the mall, then kindly pointed the way out. About one minute later, the stampede began again, going the other direction. In my mind, I thought that it may be a false alarm, as everyone was on edge, but on the other hand, knew that if something was actually coming, we needed to get away.

We headed down a random door, along with a group of other people and started running down flights of stairs. Part way down, I stopped and began to ask the people around us if anyone actually knew where we were going – realizing that we may be putting ourselves in more danger or getting ourselves stuck somewhere. We stopped continuing down the stairs and started discussing how we should proceed. Next thing we knew, we heard someone from above calling down that it was all clear to go back up. We all filed up the stairs and finally made our way out of the mall.

Holly and I had decided that our best and safest way to get out of the area was to walk to a quieter street and call an Uber to get home – we were not going to risk the subways. As we walked hand in hand, giving and receiving moral support, we tried to piece together what had gone on. We had heard rumors of stabbings and a shooting at this point and didn’t really know what to believe.

Before we knew it, people were once again running towards us, but now on the streets. Convinced that it was a false scare, we ran into to parking garage just up from where we were. Once the running had stopped, we gathered together with others who had collected in the garage and made a plan to walk together and stay together as we got out of the area.

Eventually Holly and I managed to call an Uber and got a ride back to her place. If that’s not a bonding day with your sister, I don’t know what is. Believe it or not, my hairstylist was even kind enough to let me still go ahead with my hair trial, despite being late, at this point. In the end, we discovered that there was a shooting at the celebration ceremony, not too far from the mall, but we think it was the stabbings, just outside the mall, that caused the original stampede, due to people trying to get away.

The amount of adrenaline that was pumping through my body was insane. It’s an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but was certainly intriguing to experience, being something I hope to never have to relive.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is to look out for your fellow men. I feel like in a situation like this, it really forced me to have compassion for those around me and to check in with strangers to make sure that they were okay and were safe. How often do I do this in everyday life, with the strangers and people that I interact with that look like they are hurting or in need? Maybe experiencing something terrifying together can connect people and bring them to a level of understanding, but is there any way that without having to go through something like that, that we can still have compassion and show love for our fellow humans? I have neither an answer nor a solution for this, but I’m gonna just leave this here as food for thought…