That moment, when I looked down into my phone to read the text that had just popped up, is still frozen in my head - "All Chch schools are on lockdown, do not come to school" instructed the automatically generated message from a short code.
I choked back instant tears of panic. Too late, I thought, I was already headed onto the grounds. No way am I leaving my girl here. Simultaneous beeps and dings from phones going off around me only seemed to hasten our collective steps toward the school doors.
A staff member standing at the door to the reception motioned us to get inside, locking the door behind us.
Thinking back now, it must have only been mere moments before I got to know that the alert was because of a shooting - here? In school?!
My heart and breath froze. Wiping away tears I seemed to have lost control over, I quickly took in the other faces around me and the atmosphere inside.
One of urgency, quite clearly, but it wasn't happening or happened in our school, thankfully!
Thankfully??! A surge of panic again when I asked someone where then was the shooting, and what the hell's going on?
All this even before I took a few more steps inside the office to join other parents already there, most in similar states of confusion and some in a teary panic like me. Someone mentioned the words "mosque", "shooter", and "6 dead" which was the situation at that point.
"Not here, man, not Christchurch," I was thinking, words I've since heard leaving many other lips.
My mind felt like a crumpled map I was trying to smoothen out, trying to iron out the creases to pin a location of the mosque, then draw a line from it to where we are. I felt like my heart and my brain were already operating at tangents at this point - not very helpful when you're trying to do the "grown up" thing of keeping calm and thinking clearly.
I looked at the receptionist and the principal for information as well as to get a context for my own emotions. They had a clear role in this situation, and they were carrying it out so well.
I took my puffy face over to sit with a couple of mums I recognised, we huddled needily on the small sofa. Between learning more from phones buzzing with news alerts, snippets of conversations, and us sharing our alarmed thoughts, the initial panic turned into a sense of urgency for our immediate predicament, and anxiety over the larger situation unfolding out there.
Our children were in lockdown in their respective classrooms. The kids were oblivious to the news, thankfully. This was a primary school, so the staff had decided to spare the young children details of the situation, keeping their reasons for this unusual and lengthy confinement as non-alarming as truthfully possible.
Many parents including myself were to express our appreciation to the staff at a later point, for making that decision.
Over the next nearly three hours, the principal calmly kept us updated of police alerts to the school, but not on the situation. The staff maintained pleasant exchanges to keep us calm, discouraging attempts of those announcing to share news that could cause distress or spread panic in the confines of that small room.
There were phone calls being desperately made to loved ones in other parts of the city, to verify their safety. My own phone was nearly out of juice too. Calls and texts coming in from the rest of the world as they woke up to this news, especially for some of us non-Kiwis, fuelled our own anxiety upon realising that this situation was revealing itself to be bigger than we imagined.
Finally, the lockdown lifted. We couldn't grab our children quickly enough and get home straight, keeping as calm as possible for their sake.
As rattled as we were, the rest of the news began unfolding, all over TV and on the internet. It got more distressing with each update.
That seemingly never-ending afternoon at school and the sign that it was, for the horror that descended upon this tiny, peaceful city has left us all drained, anxious, exhausted.
I was quick to mark myself as "safe" on Facebook that night, as were many people, and realised how lucky we were to be able to do so.
(Radhika Naidu is a former NDTV reporter who stays in Christchurch, New Zealand)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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