Breaking News Emails
Those attending the "Draw Muhammad" contest in Texas where two gunmen were killed and a security guard was injured Sunday night, said that everyone inside the building remained calm.
Katrina Pierson, a participant in the event, said there was "no panic, no chaos," even as police stormed the building and warned attendees there could be explosives nearby or inside the Garland, Texas, school where the event was being held.
And as the police were still sweeping the building, the crowd had burst of patriotism.
"There was a woman who actually had an American flag in her purse and she pulled it out and everyone just started singing 'God Bless America,' which was followed by U-S-A chants," Pierson said.
She said those who had been ushered into a secure spot within the school then prayed for the security guard who they heard was injured, the police officers who responded. and the country because "we are at a pivotal moment in our society."
The contest was described as a "free speech" event by its sponsor, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an active anti-Muslim group.
Pierson said those who participated knew going was a risk, and many were uneasy that there were no protesters outside when they arrived because a January event hosted by the group drew demonstrators.
"But we are not going to live in fear in Texas," Pierson said. "We went, we knew our rights and we stood up for them last night."
"I feel like we did a service to our country today by standing up to the intolerance of Islam," Pierson added. And even though she knows her life was in danger, she said nothing would have stopped her from practicing her First Amendment right.
"People have been asking me, if I could do it all over again, would I go. I absolutely would," Pierson said.
— Elisha Fieldstadt