Paul Brower was locked in the football office of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he heard the muffled gunshots.
Brower, an assistant dean for enrollment at Nichols College in Dudley, was in Florida Wednesday on a football recruiting trip with an assistant coach from the school.
The day would prove to be harrowing for the pair, as they were locked down inside a room at the Parkland, Fla., high school where a gunman went on a deadly rampage, killing at least 17 people.
Brower, who has worked at the college for almost 15 years, typically makes a trek to South Florida each year to recruit players to the school’s Division III football program that competes in the Commonwealth Coast Conference.
For St. Clair Ryan, a graduate assistant with the team, it was the first day of his first-ever recruiting trip to Florida.
The duo were meeting with four seniors in the high school’s football office when a fire alarm went off. Once the alarm subsided, the group returned to their conversation, said Brower. Shortly thereafter, someone made an announcement over the school’s public address system, stating “Code red, code red,” according to Brower.
One of the students noted the concern in the voice of the person who had made the announcement.
“You knew it was something serious,” said Brower during a phone interview with the Globe late Wednesday night.
The group would spend a nerve-wracking two-plus hours locked in the football office.
At one point, dull gunshots could be heard nearby, said Brower.
“It was enough to be worried,” he said.
The shooting would send scores of students fleeing into the street. Authorities identified the alleged gunman as Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the high school who was taken into custody about an hour after he left the scene. Wednesday’s tragedy in Florida was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. in 2012.
That ground-floor football office was probably one of the safer spots in the school to be locked in on Wednesday, said Brower, citing two sets of locked doors and a fence on the exterior of that part of the building.
“It would have been hard for anyone to get in there,” he said. “We didn’t feel in peril at any time it was more of ‘What’s going on out there?’”
Through an office window, he could see hundreds of police officers responding to the school, he said. Some of them were mere feet away from the window during the ordeal.
He said the four seniors in the office were calling and texting their relatives and friends to make sure they were OK. The students received videos of the mass shooting on their phones, he said. At one point, they were informed that someone they knew had been killed, said Brower.
“We were more worried about those kids,” he said. “We were fortunate to feel safe.”
After nearly three hours, police in SWAT gear directed those in the office to a gym, where Brower and the rest of the group were frisked. Once it was determined no one was armed, they were told to place their hands above their heads and move quickly out of the building.
Outside, there were countless droves of heavily-armed police, he said.
“The whole place was ringed,” said Brower, who lives in Auburn. “We were behind an army.”
There were crowds of parents waiting anxiously for news of their children. The atmosphere outside the school was filled with shock and raw emotion, he said.
“It was intense,” said Brower, who has a five-year-old daughter. “As a parent I felt for those people.”