SANTEE, Calif. -- In the Albertson's grocery store parking lot across from Santana High School, the sobs mingled with the warble of cell phones as distraught parents and stunned students milled between the yellow lines of police tape after Monday's school shooting spree.
Seeking some sign that their children had escaped injury, parents anxiously fingered phone numbers on speed dial, while others searched frantically for a family face in the crowd. One mother ran along the sidewalk punching the numbers on her phone and crying aloud to anyone who would listen, "He should have answered by now."
It was the last thing anyone had expected that morning in the school at the end of Carefree Street.
For a time, this prototypical mall setting of fast-food shops, a laundry and a beauty parlor, with red tile roofs and white stucco walls, became a suburban refugee camp. It was a scene of anguish and reassurance set against the specter of half a dozen television satellite trucks raising their dishes skyward like hands in prayer.
Within minutes of the morning shooting, which left two students dead and 13 wounded, police had cordoned off portions of the sun-drenched parking lot into a series of outdoor interview areas and a holding pen.
For survivors, there were hugs and tears and questions from police in the front of the Round Table pizza parlor, where kids usually go after football games.
Moving at the speed of word of mouth, parents often rushed past their own children in the confusion.
When the shooting stopped, Tanya Jones, a 15-year-old high school freshman, ran home to call her mother at the fast-food restaurant where she works. But news of the shooting traveled faster than Tanya could run and her mother was already on her way to school.
Like so many others Monday, they found each other in the parking lot.
Clutching a brown teddy bear handed out by Red Cross workers, Heather Noble, 15, stood outside the Valley Orthodox Presbyterian church across the street, weeping.
Earlier in the day, the Santee sophomore was walking down the school hall when she heard the shots and saw her friends throw themselves on the floor.
"People were running all over the place, like when you drop water on ants," she said. "That is what it looked like -- ants."
She ran out the front gates and stopped at the nearest house for help, to call her mother. She was reunited with her parents in the church parking lot. There, they dried her eyes. "You just never know," Adam Noble, her father, said as they hugged. "You just never know what is going to happen."
Then the teen-ager learned that her friend, Heather Cruz, 15, was among the wounded. And the tears flowed anew.
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