ROCKTON - Seventy Stephen Mack Middle School eighth graders and four chaperones on a trip to Washington, D.C., experienced a terrifying 13 minutes Saturday as the White House was locked down when a shooter was found on its grounds.
As Cameron Ross Burgess, 26, of Maylene, Alabama, shot and killed himself in front of the White House shortly before noon Saturday, the Rockton students were scrambled to safety during a chaotic and terrifying situation.
Eighth grader Audra Wishop said she started feeling something was off when she was getting her picture taken in the East Room, in front of the North Lawn. She recalled hearing a security guard say, "I need a location" and an agent respond "on the north lawn."
An agent then shouted for the students to go back to where they came from, and the students started heading downstairs.
"People were saying it was just a drill. But then they bolted the doors and you could see Secret Service agents around the windows setting up a perimeter. They started evacuating us and telling us to run," Wishop said. "I was completely scared."
Wishop said she was texting her family during the incident while other tourists were taking videos of a perimeter being set up around the White House.
"They had huge guns," Wishop said.
Wishop said the students were evacuated, but didn't realize what had happened until they got on the bus and started searching for news articles on the incident.
"I called my mom and told her what happened and she was just as scared," Wishop said.
Laura Zimmerman, tour director and teacher, said the students reacted very bravely in a scary situation. Some students were asked to lie on the ground as Secret Service agents were shaking doors, ensuring they were locked. They were told to put away their phones, although many people inside the White House were using them.
Zimmerman said it was terrifying as no one knew what was happening.
"We didn't know if someone was trying to get in. They told us nothing but to be quiet," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said agents didn't know how many people were shooting as there were several rounds fired. The man who committed suicide reportedly shot his phone before shooting himself.
Once students were evacuated and they met across the street, Zimmerman said all 70 of them were there.
"The kids handled it so well. They didn't panic or scream. They stayed with us and did a great job," Zimmerman said.