“I’m OK,” the text read, “don’t worry.”
When the message arrived from his son at 8:02 a.m., Joy Songcuan didn’t know what he was talking about.
Then another message came: “There’s a shooting.” Even though he knew his son, Karl, a freshman, was alive, the next hours were long and anxiety-filled.
By noon Thursday, long after most Saugus High School students had returned to Central Park and sprinted into their parents’ arms, Songcuan was still waiting.
Using his Find My iPhone app, he tracked his son, who he could see was walking from building to building on his high school campus. Songcuan pinched at his phone’s screen, zooming in.
It looked like Karl was now somewhere near the school’s office. His son had told him that he was one of about 20 students still on campus — eyewitnesses who were being questioned by officials. His son, Songcuan said, had been heading to his second class of the day, business, when the shooting happened in the quad.
Karl is a “guy of few words,” Songcuan said, and he hadn’t yet told his father much of what he’d seen that morning.
“He’s a strong kid, but he’s still so young,” Songcuan said, his eyes sparkling with tears. “One thing I know for sure — he needs a hug.”
Songcuan said he was already dreaming of the moment when his son would arrive at the park and wrap his arms around him, squeezing so tight that the father would wonder whether his bones might break. Songcuan said he knew the shooting had impacted his son deeply.
The 50-year-old father often texts his son to tell him he loves him, and his son doesn’t say I love you back — he’ll say it in person, Songcuan said, but not by text. He finds it cheesy.
On Thursday morning, after Songcuan texted his son, a return message popped up. “I love you too,” it read.
As he waited for his son, memories raced through Songcuan’s mind. He thought about how, when Karl was younger, he never bought him toy guns.
He thought, too, about the time after his son’s 14th birthday, when he figured he was now older, and he wondered whether his son wanted to go to a shooting range.
“No,” Karl said, assuredly, “it’s a gun.”
Songcuan thought of the victims.
One of the girls, he’d heard, was on the swim team, just like Karl. When he learned that two students had died, Songcuan closed his eyes.
“Their poor moms,” he said.