Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chaos at the National Zoo

We decided to take a trip to the National Zoo on Monday.  The girls didn't have school on Monday, Matt was off and we didn't get to go at all last year, so we thought, why not? We tried to keep it a surprise, but someone spilled the beans at Matt's Grandparents house accidentally.  So everyone was excited - I wanted to see my favorite, the elephants and Hannah couldn't wait to see the monkeys.  We left on time and headed to the Vienna Metro Station.  I should have known something was up because I saw two heavily protected police officers at the station (that could be normal, but I've never seen it before).

We got to the zoo and it was way crowded, hot and humid, and the book bag filled with our picnic lunch and water bottles was VERY heavy.  Matt told me later it was African American Family Fun Day - I later read that the event occurs every Easter Monday. I don't know that knowing that ahead of time would have deterred me, but knowing the history of violence definitely would have.  

Using the newspaper articles and watching the news to fill in the holes - this is what we experienced. Later in the afternoon, the girls were playing in the prairie dog tunnels when Matt noticed something wasn't right.  Then crowds of people and multiple police officers went running up the walkway.  We scooped the kids up and quickly went in the other direction.  While in the kids farm several ambulances showed up, we couldn't see much so we moved on.  I'm assuming this is when the teen was treated for the wounds in his arm.  By now it was closer to 4 when the exhibits start closing, we were hot and Matt and I were exhausted from all the walking (the girls rode in a double stroller after Hannah got a blister on her foot). We began to leave and saw a Guardian Angel escorting someone out in handcuffs.  We kept going (I don't know why they don't make the zoo a circle and connect the animal farm to where the main entrance is rather than making us go ALL the way back) and near the small mammal house we saw another police SUV, police and teens standing there.  Apparently this is where the second stabbing happened, putting the teen in critical condition at the hospital.  Both parties that were involved in the first incident left the park and then came back and were involved in an altercation again. We dropped our stroller off, got my license back, took a final bathroom break and headed out.  Crowds of people were leaving - we later learned that the zoo was well past its 25,000 (25,000?!?) occupancy limit and they closed the gates, only letting people out.  Where we would normally cross the street, we stayed on the same side as the zoo.  The crowds were enormous over there and Matt said it would be better to stay away and walk down a few blocks. (Matt later learned that the owner of the 7-11 across from the zoo dreads this day every year as he is usually robbed.  Well, yesterday was no exception as he was beat up and robbed and his store had to be closed for hours!) As we headed down, the crowd was huge - I was intimidated especially because it was a lot of young, rowdy teens and you just knew it was trouble.  All of a sudden I heard a large commotion on the other side of the street and turned to see a bunch of people running, so we sped up.  The next thing I hear is a bunch of yelling and a kid was thrown in the street and kicked in the face and then punched like crazy before he could get up. People were yelling, "get him, get him".  I was in a "oh my gosh, we have to help somehow", "why is no one doing anything" and "we need to call 911" state of mind.  Matt was in a "lets get out of here" state of mind since we obviously had the girls with us.  We walked further and I looked back and saw the guy running with a bunch of other people. We slipped into some fancy french place where the owner and head chef let us "escape".  I came back outside to call 911 - there was a TON of police and security in the zoo but they needed crowd control immediately for the walk to metro station.  Within a few minutes I could hear multiple sirens.  They closed the street and metro station - now we were stuck with these crazy people!  A lady walked into the restaurant, she knew the owner.  She had just gotten off the metro and said in all her years living in DC, she had never experienced anything like the sheer panic that was going on in the metro station.  When they closed it down they stopped the escalators and she said all of a sudden people started running down the escalator where the people who were trying to come up and out were on.  We stayed in the restaurant for about 20-25 minutes before we left with the lady who was walking down to the Dupont Circle.  It was another mile walk, but there was NO WAY we were going to get on at metro center once it opened and once the crowd got under control it was going too late.  Dupont Circle Station was busy but only with rush hour folk until all of a sudden a rowdy bunch of teens came running in - apparently they jumped the gates where you put in your fare card/smart trip card. Security made them show their passes and let them through.  We waited for the next train but skipped it - it was PACKED with people that I'm assuming were from metro center being opened back up.  We got on the next train and it was finally all over.  Rush hour made us packed like sardines, but it was full of business men and women and not crazy teenagers.  66 was still a little jammed so we went to Denny's for dinner and to just take a break before the journey home.

Walking through the park, Matt and I joked about things we had learned about coming to the zoo (which was what my blog was originally was supposed to be about).  They included:
  • let your child bring a hand-held gaming device and let me play it at every exhibit
  • when you get hot, take off your shirt
  • be sure to say the "f" word as many times as you can around as many children as you can
  • when you need to stop for something, stop right in the middle and don't check to see if anyone is behind you that needs to get by
  • don't say excuse me or sorry when you accidentally bump into someone
  • bring a weapon into a family-oriented place 
  • complain loudly and rudely so everyone can hear
  • oh, and thigh tattoos are apparently all the rage right now!
I wasn't so afraid in the park, but looking back the scene outside of the zoo was crazy. I've never been so disappointed with mankind before. I couldn't believe the way people were egging the kids on to fight, the way kids are raised to think that this behavior is acceptable, etc. etc. We tried to keep everything away from the kids and were successful in the zoo, but Emma saw the guy get kicked in the face and punched like an animal.  When we went into the restaurant we explained what happened in the park.  We talked about it and used it as a learning tool.  We talked about obeying God's commands including loving thy neighbor.  She knew that those fighting didn't know the love of Jesus Christ and prayed for them - I was so proud.  She kept saying all the way to Dupont that those people needed to know Jesus.  I'm still very much disturbed by everything I witnessed.  I've never been hesitant to ride metro and was even hoping to score Taylor Swift tickets at the Verizon Center for Emma and I but right now I just can't.  After the Elton John concert, metro station had to be closed down to control the crowd and I don't want to put Emma in any type of situation that can turn violent (although I'm pretty sure the crowd at Taylor Swift won't be quite the same as at the zoo, but you never know).  Apparently last year there was an incident at the zoo on Easter Monday at the same event and in 2000, seven CHILDREN were shot - at the same event.  I never once didn't feel safe within the zoo - there were several different forces of security and police, it was outside the zoo where I didn't know what was going to happen.  It easily could have turned into a riot. 

When I take my children to a place meant for families, I expect for us to be safe.  I don't expect to have to worry about crowds not knowing how to act like human beings or bringing weapons into where children are.  It is just plain ridiculous and is still bothering me now - late the next day.  We won't be back to the zoo for a LONG time and will NEVER return on an Easter Monday due to the history of what tends to happen. 

To end on a happy note, I did capture these pictures of the girls though:


  1. Oh my gosh! How horrible! I had never heard of Easter Monday being a "thing" at the zoo either. I'm so glad you guys made it out and made it home safe. On a lighter note, the girls look super cute. Emma is practically a grown up! :o)

  2. "She knew that those fighting didn't know the love of Jesus Christ and prayed for them - I was so proud."
    You should be, good job parenting.