On Thursday night, tragedy struck downtown Dallas when five police officers were killed by a gunman during a peaceful "Black Lives Matter" protest through the streets. While all of the details are still unclear, police have named Micah Xavier Johnson, who was killed in a standoff with authorities, a suspect in the shooting. Seven more officers and two civilians were injured during the shooting.
The shooting in Dallas came on the heels of the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men who were shot by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota. By every account, the protest through downtown Dallas was peaceful and only turned to chaos when the shooting took place. The terrifying experience will stay with those affected forever and sadly overshadow the message that the "Black Lives Matter" movement was trying to spread with the march through Dallas.
"It was beautiful, the protest in itself was beautiful," Dallas native Dalia Khogali, who was at the protest, told Complex "It was all races—there were Blacks, Whites, Asians genuinely as upset about what’s happening, you know, ‘cause we’re all discussing it amongst each other as we’re going." The traumatic experience for Dalia was one of fear and an effort to try and keep herself safe during a national disaster.
Dalia explained that the crowd initially heard the gunshots when she was walking toward the McDonalds on Lamar street in downtown Dallas. "It just started becoming complete chaos. People were running, people didn't know where to go, people were bumping into each other. Everyone was panicking at that point," she said. "As I’m realizing and comprehending it, some more shots are starting to go off. They started to go “POP POP POP POP."
Soon after hearing the shots, Dalia rushed to a nearby parking garage, which she later found out was the same garage where a shooter was located. "I go into the garage—halfway into it another shot comes off and I realize that whoever’s shooting is in the garage somewhere because it started to echo and the shots were so loud in that garage where I was like halfway into it trying to hide in it," she explained. Eventually, Dalia and other people who had made their way to the garage ended up in the basement to try and hide for the time being. Fearful that the shooter could find them, some of the men who were in the staircase with Dalia held the door shut so that nobody could come inside. The chaos of the moment led Dalia and random strangers to hunker down in a stairwell and fight for their lives. "This guy’s holding the door shut, just saying, 'Stay in here, stay calm, calm down,' and the guy that was bleeding was saying that he was just standing exactly by where the cop got shot," she said. "Like he just saw the guy get hit wherever he got hit and he saw the guy drop and he freaked and out just ran and he ended up where I was at."
Dalia eventually made her way out of the garage, only to get back to the street where she was met by cops and SWAT teams looking for the shooter. And though she was stopped by police as she came out of the garage, Dalia said that the Dallas police didn't actively question anyone coming out of the garage. "It seemed like a million cops were waiting on us and everybody’s just looking at us at this point because we’re coming out the doors running, and I don’t know if they thought we were the shooters cause we just started running but everybody started pointing their rifles and guns and screaming and we were like 'Don’t shoot!' We were all panicking. We just missed the sniper and we’re gonna get shot by cops."
As Dalia and the rest of the crowd made their way from the garage, she realized that they might not be safe out there either and decided to take cover in a Greyhound station. After moving from cover, she said that everyone in the streets started to check on everyone else and make sure everyone was alright. When that happened, she said she started talking to a man who identified himself as a Navy Seal veteran, who said he had seen another shooter—"a white male, probably like 5'8"—who let off shots on the street. "After he started shooting, he started running with the crowd." These claims have not been confirmed by the Dallas police or any other outlets.
This week has been a lot. People died who shouldn't have. The nation seems more divided than ever. It's time for change and time to mourn the ones we've lost. For people like Dalia, who was trying to effect systemic change at last night's protest, but instead had her own life altered—things will never be the same. She's thankful to be able to tell her story of survival. "I just want to say that violence is not the answer."