HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — They were left waiting.

Whether 10 minutes or 10 hours, the students and staff of the Islamic Academy of Alabama felt they had been left behind.

On the morning of Feb. 1, several students and staff members had dialed 911 after hearing gunshots near their small, private school, they said. Local police, however, who claimed to have been confused about which school the calls originated from, initially responded to the Magic City Acceptance Academy, an institution located about four miles away from where the calls for help had actually originated.

The staff and students of the Islamic Academy of Alabama said the resulting delay may have only been minutes, but it was a mistake that could have cost lives.

For nearly 130 years, students have made their way to the Rosedale section of Homewood to laugh and learn. Since 1996, it’s been the home of the Islamic Academy of Alabama, but long before that, even before Vulcan towered over the local landscape, it had been a place of educational excellence.

Rosedale High School, 1959 (Birmingham Public Library)

The Rosedale School, as it was originally called, was founded by B.M. Montgomery as a way to educate the local Black population. After attendance outgrew Montgomery’s home in the 1920s, a building was erected on the same hill in Rosedale where the Islamic Academy now stands.

By the 1930s, though, during the height of the Jim Crow era of racial terrorism, Rosedale had become a target. In April 1932, in the span of just a few days, two of the school’s buildings were burned to the ground.

“Old school building burned in Rosedale in second fire of the week,” the Birmingham Reporter wrote at the time. The damage from the fires approached $500,000 in today’s dollars. Locals blamed the Ku Klux Klan, according to press reports, but no one was ever arrested for the arson.

In the face of that terrorism, the school rebuilt and continued to fulfill its mission of educating those who had historically been pushed aside in the Heart of Dixie. Rosedale would go on to graduate legends of the community, including Fred Shuttlesworth in 1940 and Shelley Stewart in 1952.

It was with this foundation — of educating those in marginalized communities — that the Islamic Academy of Alabama was founded in 1996.

Stacy Abdein served as the first principal of the academy. Last week, Abdein, who now serves as the school’s administrative assistant, sat along with other staff, students and administration in the library as she recounted what happened on February 1.

Abdein was in the school’s front office when she heard the gunshots ring out. She lives in the country, she said, so the sound didn’t initially register as something out of the ordinary.

But a “split second” later, she said, she realized the urgency of the situation and went into autopilot.

“I jumped up, and I got on the intercom,” Abdein said. “I let everybody know it’s a lockdown — lock your doors.”

Abdein was nervous, but she knew what had to be done to protect students.

“We locked the door, turned the lights off, got everyone in the back room, and I called 911,” she said.

Abdein recalled telling police about the gunshots and providing them with both the name of the school and its address. They told her they’d received numerous calls from the school already, she recalled.

Hiba Abouhouli hadn’t heard Abdein’s announcement. She and a few other students had been outside the school in the parking lot. She heard the gunshots — she said they sounded close by — and saw students running toward the building. One of the students with her began to cry, worried about her younger brother.

“We thought someone was being chased,” Abouhouli said. “We thought there may be a shooter.”

Abouhouli called a school counselor on her cell phone. The counselor told them to get inside the school building as fast as they were able.

“I was scared, but I was also confused because it all happened really fast,” the student said. “When I ran out of the car, my hijab wasn’t even on.”

She and a few other students made it to the building and hid inside a bathroom just inside the school’s entryway. As the young women locked themselves in the bathroom, one of them armed herself with a mop.

At first, Angel Muehlbauer thought the announcement of a lockdown may just be a drill. Muehlbauer works at the academy, but as the situation unfolded, it was her four children who attend the school that were weighing on her mind.

She was in the school’s break room when Abdein’s announcement came. She locked the door and turned off the lights. Then the worries flooded her thoughts.

Her twin boys were in P.E., she thought. Where would they be now? Were they vulnerable? Would they be safe?

“The entire time — until I knew they were safe — I’m upset and alone in the dark, worried about my children,” the mother said.

The delay caused by Homewood Police’s confused initial response to another school, the
Magic City Acceptance Academy, could have led to devastation for the Islamic Academy of Alabama, the staff and students said.

The response time was as little as 10 minutes, Abdein said, but no delay was acceptable.

“I would like for them to have been here much quicker,” she said. “I gave them the address and they told me multiple calls had been made and that police would be there quickly.”

The entire incident lasted around a half hour, she said, but it felt like hours.

Abouhouli said that CBS 42’s initial story, which centered around the impact the police response had on students at MCAA, should have done more to focus on the plight the Islamic Academy community found themselves in that day — a delay that could have cost lives.

“Why was the focus on them,” she asked of a story detailing the impact the confused response had at MCAA. “We’re the people that — if there had been an active shooting — we’re the ones that would have been affected. For them, the police came into the school, yes, but for us, we were waiting for so long for the police to come.”

Homewood Police initially responded to the wrong location because of confusion around the word “academy” in the 911 call, according to Sgt. John Carr, the department’s public information officer. Both schools were quickly cleared, he said, and no threat was found.

Carr said that the response to Magic City Acceptance, which is located across the street from the police station, was “almost immediate.” The delay in responding to the Islamic Academy of Alabama caused by the 911 call confusion was minimal, he added.

“There was not a huge delay,” he said. “We had units that were on that side of town, and they were there pretty quick.”

A preliminary investigation suggested that shots fired in a nearby neighborhood led a student to call 911 from the Islamic Academy, Carr said.

“There was no active threat to any of the schools or any of the campuses,” he confirmed.

Homewood police did not respond to a request from CBS 42 for formal records of the timing of the 911 calls and the police responses to each institution.

In addition to their concerns about police’s delayed response, staff, students and administrators expressed apprehension about the intensity of the response once police arrived at the Islamic Academy and better understood the situation — that shots had come from the surrounding neighborhood and not from campus itself.

Police who arrived at the school entered with guns drawn, the staff and students said, going from classroom to classroom, including those with young children.

The school’s current principal, Ziyad Awad, watched on security cameras as police swarmed the school. The response upset him.

“The kids were scared,” he said. “And when an administrator is there who is saying to you that there’s no reason to enter the building, I think there is no need to enter a first-grade or second-grade classroom with guns.”

Abeida, the school’s first principal and its current administrative assistant, said that previous police responses to the Islamic Academy of Alabama in similar situations were much more reasonable. A few years ago, the school had entered a lockdown in a similar situation. The police response was quick and proportionate to the threat, she said.

“They didn’t come into the school with guns,” she explained.

Carr with Homewood Police said they understand that any massive police response can be traumatizing for children.

“We certainly understand that seeing a bunch of police officers with guns coming into your school would be disturbing,” he said. “It’s just a sad fact that we have to respond that way because we take it very seriously, and we’re trying to preserve life.”

Carr said Homewood Police’s response was standard for an active shooter situation.

“Our response is everybody — all hands on deck,” he said. “Everybody that’s at work, regardless of your department, is responding.”

Because of the current climate, Carr said, it’s unreasonable to have police respond without such force.

“It’s unfortunate, but they can’t really respond to an active shooter with a gun in your holster,” Carr explained. “That’s like our Super Bowl — you’ve got to be on your A-game, and you’ve got to do what you’re trained to do, and that involves police officers with guns out.”

Abdein said she understands that the national climate has changed when it comes to school shootings — it’s an unfortunate reality that the school is having to come to terms with.

“We understand that if there’s an active shooter, we want them to take out the shooter, obviously,” Abdein said. “But I was clear with the first officer to arrive. There was no active shooter. We heard a shooting in the neighborhood. There’s no threat inside the school. But when they arrived, they came in like an army.”

Despite what happened on Feb. 1, each of the three students interviewed by CBS 42 said they feel they are as safe as they can possibly be inside their school — as safe as it’s possible to be in any U.S. school.

“Our school handled the situation well,” Abouhouli said. “But we live in America and school shootings are uniquely American. Living in this country makes it difficult to feel safe at school.”

The students and teachers said they feel pride in their school, too. They’re proud of their school’s achievements — award-winning science fair projects, vibrant club participation, an oversized representation in UAB’s honors program. And they’re proud to be an integral part of the Birmingham community.

Principal Awad said that he’s often recognized in public places and told by local residents that they respect the impact the school has had on the community.

“I believe that the community respects us, and that we are welcomed here,” Awad said.

As he spoke, though, the women sitting around him, seated at a table in the school’s library, quickly interjected.

“It’s a little different for us,” Muehlbauer said. “Because we show our religion in the clothing we wear.”

She gestures to her hijab, a hair covering worn by many Muslim women. Every woman in the library nodded in agreement.

After CBS 42’s initial report on the police response to the two schools, some parents expressed fear that the coverage would only place more attention on schools that have already borne the brunt of today’s fraught political climate.

“It’s a good point,” Abdein said of the suggestion. “But I think we already felt that way before this. We’ve always felt like we had a bigger target on our back than other schools would. And I’m sure Magic City feels the same way: just because of who we are.”