A lot of people in the Hawaiian islands assumed they had no more than 15 minutes to live Saturday morning after an emergency alert warned they were under attack.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL," the notification read, which was sent to smartphones across the state.
There was no incoming missile; an emergency alert system operator apparently pressed the wrong button. But that was enough to induce hysteria across Hawaii.
Gang Mills resident Jennifer B., who asked The Leader not to use her last name, experienced the whole thing while visiting her son Grant Powell, a petty officer in the Navy stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The two were at a Hertz picking up a rental car when everybody began to hear the news.
The pair described a scene where the first reality that set in, other than panic, was nobody knew what to do. Cooped up in a vulnerable building with a lot of glass windows and no basement, with no time to spare, there wasn’t much they could do.
"The women who were at the counter at Hertz admitted and sort of threw up their hands and said ‘we have no plans. We have no idea what to tell you to do,’" Jennifer B. said.
"When we first got the message, no one really knew what to do. There was a lot of pandemonium," Powell added.
Powell described how people eerily began to accept their fate.
"As it kind of just set in, it was kind of weird. People were kind of really calm about it, because they kind of realized, the Hawaiian islands aren't really big. If a ballistic missile goes off, that’s pretty much it," he said.
"People I think just kind of had this really fatalistic view on it, and they were just kind of like, ‘well I guess if we die, we die.’"
Jennifer B. described feeling relieved she was with her son during the ordeal. Then she did what everyone around her seemed to be doing: she called her loved ones.
She said she called her mother, her husband and her two daughters. Then she started praying.
"If this was the end, I needed all those pieces tied up before I met my maker," Jennifer B. said.
"You have ten minutes to pull all your thoughts together, think your last thoughts, say your last words, hug your last hugs, and then that’s it."
Then word began to come in that it was all a false alarm.
"I felt total relief that A, we could get a vacation, and B, we’re not going to die!" Jennifer B. said. "I felt like God saved us."
After the fact, Powell recalled how it seemed odd there wasn’t any other verification of an incoming missile. No news, no word from the military - nothing.
"There were no sirens going off or anything like that. People were freaking out, but some of us were kind of skeptical. There was one message and we didn’t hear anything else about it for 30 minutes," he said.
The state issued a correction 38 minutes after the alert went out clarifying it was a mistake and no one is in imminent danger. The terrifying incident is under investigation.