Yesterday, 10:05 A.M., Gulf Shores, Alabama—the worst thing you can imagine. Twelve kids injured. Four in critical condition. Screaming parents. A shut-down highway. Helicopters. Flashing lights.
This is a beach town. Here public schools still observe Mardi Gras—a holiday when anyone owning a trumpet plays Dixieland.
And of all places, it happened at the annual Fat Tuesday parade.
I’ve attended a handful of times. Once, when I was a high-schooler, watching my friend play tuba. Once with my cousin—who was so drunk I had to hold him upright.
This isn’t like the big shindigs they do in Mobile or New Orleans. It’s a small event. A family day. Kids sit on shoulders. Homemade floats get towed by Silverados. Parents cheer.
This year, it was hell on earth.
The Gulf Shores High School band looked good. The sax-section bobbed its horns in rhythm. The drumline tapped out a steady cadence. Lots of smiling. Students waved to parents.
Without warning, an SUV screamed forward. Kids got mowed down. Instruments twisted. Twelve-year-olds. Seventeen-year-olds. Babies.
Like I said. The worst.
“They looked like rag-dolls,” one person remarked. “It was so freaking scary, it didn’t seem real.”
Someone else saw the driver leap out of the vehicle. It was a seventy-three-year-old man. The look on his face was one of shock.
One woman said, “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh this is some terrorism act…’ But then I saw the old guy and his expression…”
It was an accident that put our section of the world on last night’s national news. It attracted cameras, lights, nice-looking reporters.
But, if you’re looking for an ugly ending to this god-awful story, you’re looking in the wrong place. Because this a heart-strong community with salt-of-the-earth folks.
I’m talking teachers, charter-fishermen, boat mechanics, pastors, nurses, landscapers, and Walmart employees.
An entire town huddled together. Parents wearing Mardi Gras beads knelt over teenagers on the pavement. Adults pressed foreheads against the chests of the wounded. Gulf Shores Fire Rescue fitted neck braces on middle-schoolers.
EMT’s shouted things like, “Stay with me, darling!” Or: “I got you, baby!”
You’ve never seen the fires of Hell extinguished so fast.
This is the kind of town where the high-school band director waits in the hospital during his student’s surgery.
The same teacher who shoved members of the brass section out of the way of an oncoming vehicle—barely avoiding it himself.
“He was trying to save lives,” said one man. “Even if it meant he got hurt. Tells you what kind of school we got.”
Yes it does.
“This is tough,” said school superintendent, Eddie Tyler, who is not ashamed of his teary eyes. A man who talks with a drawl so thick you can spread it on toast.
“We got a great family,” he went on. “This is a special county.”
It’s more than special.
It’s Baldwin Damn County, Alabama.