An afternoon of terror for dozens of parents came to an end with kisses, tears, and tight embraces Wednesday evening as their children were evacuated from the Precious Babies day care, a North Philadelphia facility that was under lockdown for more than three hours as a gunman holed up in a nearby house shot six police officers before surrendering to authorities after midnight.
“I’m just happy I got my daughter,” said Shere Calhoun, smoothing her 8-year-old’s hair. “I didn’t want her to be a victim.”
Precious Babies staffers said they had hunkered down with the children in a stairwell at the center to protect them from stray bullets. It was a scenario they had trained for, they said.
“We had to stay calm and collected and get the children calm,” one said, declining to give her name.
Shortly after 7 p.m., police had set up two city buses near the day-care center on the 1400 block of West Erie Avenue to hold children whose parents hadn’t yet arrived to pick them up. Other parents rushed frantically down the block, asking after their children at the bus doors.
"Calm down, calm down,” an officer called to another parent running down the block. “The kids are safe.”
Molly Jones held her 2-year-old, Tyshaun, tightly. She was planning to walk to the day care and pick him up after coming home from work when squad cars came flying down her block — and then police officers began cordoning off streets. Panicked, Jones called the day care and got a busy signal — and then staffers called her, saying they and the kids were sheltering in place.
It was small comfort: “The glass windows at the day care …” Jones said, trailing off. “And bullets go through walls.”
Jones and a friend waited nervously for hours, asking police officers for updates, until they received word that their children were being evacuated to Germantown and Erie. They ran to the intersection, and turned around and sprinted again when an officer corrected them: Their kids were at Broad and Erie.
On the corner, Jones gripped Tyshaun, still trying to catch her breath. “I’m still really nerve-racked. I’m really trying to get it together,” she said. “I’m sure my baby is OK — but he’s not used to any of this.”
She then answered her cellphone: A relative was on the other end. “You got him? You got him?” the caller asked in a tense voice. “Yeah,” Jones said. “I got him.”
Sabrina Hall was in a class at nursing school when a family member called to tell her there was a shooting on the block where her 5-year-old, Savion, attends day care. What went through her mind?
“Everything,” she said. “You’re scared. They’re right there on the corner. You don’t know what could be happening.”
A family member who works at the day care kept her updated as best she could, she said. The family has lived in the neighborhood for years, but they’ve never experienced anything like this before, Hall said.
“I’m ready to get my son home and talk to him,” she said. “But I don’t know what I’m going to say.”
Tiffany Burris held her 3-year-old son, Tyaan, who waved to a friend who passed by in the arms of his mother. Tyaan looked at Burris and cocked his head, confused.
“There was a shooting by your day care,” she said gently. “You don’t understand. You’re only 3.”
Burris had been taking a nap when her aunt woke her up and told her of the shooting.
“I couldn’t stop crying and shaking,” she said. The kids were safe, hiding in a stairwell, Precious Babies employees told her when she called. “I was scared to come outside. Scared of gunfire. Bullets have no name on them,” she said.
But as soon as she learned where her son was being evacuated, she ran to the scene.
“You see it in the movies — but for it to be your child, your day care …” Burris said. “Anything could have happened. It could have been worse.”