Sean Keller and his co-workers weren't getting anything done. They couldn't stop talking about the unspeakable terror in New York and Washington. By lunch, he had had enough - and drove to Columbia to take his 2-year-old daughter out of her preschool early.
"How do you work?" asked Keller, of Clarksville. "This is a time to gather your family, be thankful for what you've got and pray for those affected."
In the wake of yesterday's horrors, decisions like that were commonplace among parents of students across the Baltimore area as they flocked to grab their children out of schools, hug them and take them home.
Some found children in tears, asking questions that simply could not be answered. Some struggled to decide what to say, particularly to those too young to really understand.
"Everything was chaotic at school," said Diana Fields, a 16-year-old student at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. "People were crying everywhere. They knew people who were involved, possibly - in the planes and in the Pentagon. It was crazy. We just decided to go home."
By 11:30 in the morning, dozens of jittery parents were arriving at Dulaney High School in Timonium to retrieve their children. Some were trembling and tearful as they crowded into the main office. Principal Lyle Patzkowsky said he understood parents' concerns: "What you're working on is the unknown."
Confusion was apparent as many schools started emptying out before noon when local TV stations reported the governor's office had decreed that all Maryland schools should be closed early, a report that state officials later said was incorrect.
The misinformation had been conveyed by the state education department, which soon tried to correct it - but not before it had spread to many schools. By the time Baltimore City school officials learned that the state had not ordered all jurisdictions to shut their schools, they felt they had no choice but to order their schools closed.
All Baltimore area jurisdictions closed schools early, though some, such as Howard and Baltimore counties, closed only an hour or less ahead of schedule.
Decisions on whether to hold classes today had not been made in all areas last night.
Baltimore and Carroll counties plan to open schools. Howard planned to open, but officials may change that decision this morning.
In Anne Arundel County, with a large population of military families, schools will be closed, as will those in Montgomery. And city school officials said the system would be open, but Harford County officials had not made their decisions as of early last night.
Many Maryland colleges and universities shut down early yesterday, too. The University of Maryland, College Park stayed open yesterday, but President C.D. Mote Jr. has declared a day of mourning today - keeping the campus open but canceling classes. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on the campus mall.
The school closings seemed to stem less from actual fears for the safety of students than from a general state of shock.
"That was an act of war," said Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. "If anyone could be that deliberate to kill ... Americans on American soil and to see the Pentagon [under attack] ... and to see sharpshooters on the White House ... this isn't a game."
Depending on the ages of their students, many teachers reacted to the unfolding carnage by treating it as an opportunity for discussion. They went beyond simply assuring their charges that they were safe in school, letting them watch what was happening on television and express their fears and thoughts to one another.
"What was happening was a lot more important than anything I was going to teach," said Brian King, health education teacher at Western High School in Baltimore.
At Severna Park Elementary School, Debbie Rice raced out with her 8-year-old son, who knew nothing about what had happened. "It's very chaotic right now," she said. "He doesn't know anything about it yet. He asked me, 'What's going on?'"
At Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School in downtown Baltimore, second-grader Todd Alexander said his teacher tried to explain what had happened and why school was letting out - all of which left him afraid. "I figured the person [who did it] was coming here," Todd said as he and his sister, Lauren, 4, a pre-kindergartner, were being escorted from the building by his father.
Frightened parents, confusion prompt schools to close early
Amid tears, trembling, mothers and fathers retrieve their children; 'Everything was chaotic'; State officials say report of governor's decree was erroneous
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