Oak Harbor, Washington (KTRE) - Lufkin native Kaitlyn Martinez went to the mall Friday, September 23rd to simply pick up a new pair of jeans, but the trip to American Eagle located next to the Macy's Department store in Burlington, Washington ended in chaos.
"I felt like time stopped, it didn't feel real, but I remember just turning and seeing the words active shooter on the wall," Martinez said. "There really wasn't time to be afraid though until I was out of there and safe."
Mass shootings have become an all too common headline happening more in recent years than ever before, but Martinez praised first responders quick response.
"I was very impressed with the time it took for the police to be there, it felt like as soon as it happened there were immediately 10 emergency vehicles by the time I got outside," Martinez said.
The East Texas native said that being in the mall the same time the shooting took place wasn't the most coincidental thing about the situation.
"We are from the same town, we traveled the same time frame to the same mall 30 minutes away, and then we found out he was obtained around the same time the next day when we got home," Martinez said.
Security footage and information released by police said around 6:52pm the suspect was seen walking through Macy's with a rifle. Martinez said that she had a missed call from her boyfriend trying to find her from 6:56pm, this is when she exited the American Eagle that put her in the same hallway as the department store.
"The funny thing was he initially asked me if I wanted to be dropped off in Macy's, looking back now I think that was Gods way of protecting me because I was one decision away from possibly walking into a situation I wouldn't survive."
It's something that has impacted her small community of Oak Harbor and has taught her to appreciate life as she recalls how close she was to the tragedy.
"It put in perspective how fragile life really is, because something like this can happen to anyone, you can be shopping for jeans," Martinez said. "It' nauseating, and it's frightening to think I was just feet away from him."
She hopes others will hear her story and realize how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and always be prepared if tragedy strikes.
"It was something my mom said, she would have never thought to run through a back emergency exit, because when I saw that exit it said 'Alarm will sound', and I thought okay good maybe this will alarm others as well," Martinez said.
As her community moves forward beyond this senseless tragedy she says it has brought out the best in people.
"With the support and counseling being offered to everyone that has been effected by this situation it really shows that even in such a small community, we are here for each other," Martinez said.
Her final message she hopes to send others moving forward is to take the spotlight back from the suspect responsible and honor those killed in this senseless tragedy.
"I think sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the details of a situation like race, religion, or a motive, but I want people to remember that five lives were lost that's what we should really focus on," Martinez said.
Martinez hopes her message will spread to help others protect and prepare if they ever find themselves in the midst of a similar tragedy.