The morning began just like any other. It was hot and getting hotter. White clouds moved in, the fat, fluffy kind you lie in the grass and daydream over. Kids were in summertime camp, their parents at work, and across the city folks began making plans for lunch.
Things were calm.
Then came the storm.
"I was at the 9-1-1 center, testing for a 9-1-1 operator position," said Kemara Allen, who just moved here from Michigan. "They stopped the testing. They put the building on lockdown. They were saying there had been a shooting."
Blocks away, a man got out his high-powered rifle, took aim from a convertible Mustang and shot and killed four Marines at an operational support center. It was an act of bold violence, happening in the epicenter of our city's law enforcement district — Amnicola Highway, which is blanketed with police, fire and military presence.
The shooter went straight to our front door.
Across the city, rumors and media flurried like quail in a field. Hurried texts — "You OK?" and "You safe?" — sent from families and friends. We began speaking in the terrible vocabulary of our times.
"There's an active shooter."
"We're on lockdown."
"Is it ISIS?"
A no-fly zone was imposed over the area. The FBI began sending in agents, with a hundred more to come. Law enforcement agencies — national to county to city — responded.
By noon, it was over. The suspect, identified as Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was dead.
And just like that, everything changed.
With Thursday's violence, Chattanooga joins a growing list of wounded American cities marked by the new normal that has become domestic terrorism. We were never immune, and 21st century life has always felt a bit like Russian roulette. With every news story about a shooting somewhere else, we all wondered in the quiet dark: Is the next bullet ours?
Can it happen here?
"Today is a nightmare for the city of Chattanooga," Mayor Andy Berke said at a crowded afternoon news conference.
He looked like he'd been crying. Authorities at the news conference — from mayor to police chief to county sheriff — walked in like pallbearers, heavy, eyes downcast, as if having been forced to accept some cursed invitation to a far worse world.
"An act of domestic terrorism," U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said.
Hours after the shooting, Amnicola Highway felt surreal, as if caught in this nauseating, tragic space between a world we know and one we don't. Sirens blared on and off in the background. Businesses empty, lobbies closed. "Due to emergency," the signs said. Agents in khaki pants with "POLICE" stitched in white letters on black bulletproof vests walked in long strides, carrying weapons, talking into phones.
"This incident occurred very close to where you are standing right now," Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher said.
As a city, where do we stand now?
Where does our fear go from here?
Do we arm ourselves to the teeth? Put our heads in the sand? Fall to our knees in prayer? Will we always look over our shoulders — at parks, ballgames, on normal Thursday mornings — at what could come around the corner?
Does Oklahoma City have something to teach us? Does Charleston? Fort Hood? Are their ghosts now ours, too?
At the news conference, someone asked the names of the Marines killed.
"Families have not been notified," an FBI authority answered.
For years, that terrible news — "Four Marines killed today by enemy fire" — has come to us from faraway lands. Like Baghdad. Fallujah.
On a normal Thursday in July, the war came here.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.