KMOX Morning Drive anchor Debbie Monterrey was reporting live on the air in St. Louis, Missouri when she started receiving text messages from her 17-year-old daughter, Caeli.
“My kids text me all the time when I’m on the air,” Monterrey told TODAY Parents. “I looked down quickly and it was in all caps, which is unusual for my daughter. She wrote: ‘OMG THERE’S AN INTRUDER IN THE BUILDING.’”
As a seasoned reporter with decades of experience and a mom of two, Monterrey said her initial reaction was to “not panic.”
Then Monterrey received another text message from her daughter: “OMG.” Then another: “It’s not a drill.”
On Monday, a 19-year-old gunman entered the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis with what authorities described as a “long gun” and killed one teacher and a 15-year-old student. The shooter died after exchanging gunfire with law enforcement officers.
Monterrey’s daughter is a senior at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience; the magnet high school shares a building with the high school where the shooter carried out his attack.
Monterrey looked at a TV screen in the studio and saw arial footage of a building — her daughter’s school. A reporter from the KMOX newsroom then ran into the studio and whispered, “We have breaking news.”
“I was just in shock mode, trying to keep everything together,” Monterrey said. “The reporter said, ‘There’s been a school shooting.’ I said, ‘I know, it’s my daughter’s school. Caeli is texting me right now.”
As the news continued to break, Monterrey was receiving real-time updates from her daughter via text.
“I hear so much police outside the door.”
“People are yelling police.”
“We all ran out of the building.”
“Police told us to have our hands up.”
As her daughter told her she was leaving the building, Monterrey looked up at the television screen and watched lines of students run toward safety.
Thirty minutes after that first text, Monterrey knew her daughter was safe. At that moment her program cut to commercial, and the mom broke down crying. Her co-anchor, Carol Daniel, embraced her as she sobbed.
Still, she had a job to do: Report the news.
“I only had 30 seconds to feel my feelings because we had a job to do,” she explained. “We went back on air and the reporter is saying what she’s hearing from police and I’m relaying what my daughter is telling me. I figured, if I was going to hold it together I had to hang onto the facts.”
For 20 minutes, Monterrey stayed on the air, reporting the very latest news as her daughter was living through it.
“There were no commercials,” Monterrey said. “I kept thinking, ‘I need to take a break because I needed a breath, but the producer had taken all the commercials out because our news director was saying to just keep going.”
Monterrey stressed that her news director did check in to make sure she was OK. Because she was in constant communication with her daughter and knew she was OK, Monterrey said she decided to “just keep going.”
After what Monterrey described as the “weirdest 45 minutes of my broadcasting career,” she received a text message from her daughter to come pick her up.
“That was the moment when I was like: ‘OK, I’m leaving now,’ Monterrey explained. “My daughter needs me.”
TODAY Parents reached out to Monterrey’s employer, KMOX, for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.
Once reunited with her daughter, Monterrey said they shared an uncharacteristically long hug.
“My daughter is not much of a hugger,” she said. “But as soon as I saw her I got a very, very long hug. I think it was really intense for both of us.”
Since the shooting, Monterrey said her daughter has experienced a wide range of emotions. That evening, the pair spent nearly four hours listening to news coverage.
“She wanted to know what happened, who the shooter was, and how many people were shot,” she said. “I think she was still numb.”
That night, Monterrey said her daughter “got weepy,” then scared when she was “hearing noises outside.” The next morning, she seemed happy, Monterrey said, but then grew “melancholy and stayed in her pajamas until 11.” At one point, she told her mother she didn’t want to go back into the building again.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, which is normal,” Monterrey added. “But the trauma that we inflict upon the kids of our nation with these school shootings and doing nothing about it? I don’t know how this damage manifests itself in the short- and long-term.”
Monterrey said she’s still processing what happened, too.
“In our gun-worshipping culture that we live in, it could happen to anyone at any time, anywhere,” she explained. “I hope to be able to move forward and just live my life and enjoy the community that I love, and not have this constantly over my head or having me looking over my shoulder. I hope that is the reality for me and for my kids. I don’t know if that’s possible.”
The shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School occurred five months to the day after 19 fourth grade students and two teachers were shot and killed inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
So far, there have been 40 school shootings in 2022, according to Education Week — the most since the independent news organization started tracking school shootings in 2018.