Refreshing a phone every minute to check the latest news while trapped in a bus in the middle of a bridge is not the ideal picture for a vacation in Hawaii. But, for flute player and junior Sonel Cutler, the active shooter on Pearl Harbor was the only thing racing through her mind during that hour.
The marching band represented Virginia as it performed at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Day Parade in the first week of December, but two days after it arrived, the band found itself caught on a bridge while a United States sailor opened fire within the naval base, killing two other workers before committing suicide.
“We had just finished visiting the USS Missouri [and playing] a concert there,” Cutler said. “We got stuck in traffic on the bridge heading back into [our hotel]. We all sat there for a while and thought it was traffic but by that time, we had sat there for 20 to 30 minutes and hadn’t moved a single inch.”
Cutler said though she did not feel like she was in immediate danger, it was strange to have the incident occur so close to her.
“It was really uncomfortable and nerve-wracking to have it happen so close,” Cutler said. “We would refresh our phones every few seconds to see if there was any news about [the shooting].”
Flute player and junior Leslie Kim said she felt reassured having the entire band in one place, rather than scattered around the island like it was during its downtime.
“We were all together on the bus, so I knew everyone was safe, which was a relief but it was definitely still scary,” Kim said.
But soon after the shooting, the band’s activities resumed as it had originally planned, with not only performances, but also sightseeing, experiencing local culture, hiking and visiting various beaches.
“When we got back to the island, I was really surprised that [band director Paul Vesilind] let us have our scheduled free time,” Cutler said. “[We were] just walking around the island like nothing had happened.”
Vesilind said the shooting did not affect the band at all, and because there was limited information while the incident took place, staying on the bus was comparable to stopping on the road because of a large hold-up.
“The only thing that affected us was that we were in traffic for an hour,” Vesilind said. “We didn’t hear anything [and] there weren’t any warnings. We might as well have been in rush hour traffic on I-495.”
Though the band was able to quickly move past the shooting, students at Marshall were unclear about what happened after news broke. Clarinet player and junior Claire Lee, who does not participate in marching band, said she was worried about those who went on the trip.
“I heard they had left the area only a few minutes before it happened,” Lee said. “I am truly sad about the incident, but I am thankful that everyone from the band is okay.”