Instead, they were in the middle of a potentially explosive scene as the suspect in the mass killings at Xerox Corp. negotiated his surrender in the park with authorities.
Xerox copier repairman Byran Uyesugi arrived at the park Tuesday morning after he allegedly shot and killed seven co-workers and escaped in a company vehicle. As negotiators worked, a Hawaii National Guard armored personnel carrier was hauled to the area in case the children needed to be evacuated.
Instead, they hiked out through a back trail.
They were met by rifle-toting officers, who escorted them out in two police vans and a small yellow school bus. The children waved as they passed down the street, unaware of how close they were to danger.
"They thought it was a game," said Jennie Peterson, an instructor at the center.
Earlier, a group of fourth-graders from Hickam Elementary School were bused to safety after hiking about a mile away from the center.
Negotiators using a bullhorn tossed a cellular telephone next to the van. The 40-year-old Uyesugi grabbed the phone, returned to the van and began talking with the police. His brother, Dennis, arrived to help with negotiations.
"Just come out. Let me help you, that's what I'm here for," a negotiator said. "Come out and talk."
Before police arrived to evacuate nearby homes, media, residents and others had staked out vantage points within 150 yards of the van, putting themselves in potential danger. A half-mile away, some residents even set up lounge chairs to watch the drama unfold.
"It was probably kind of stupid because ... let's just say he had an automatic weapon and came out from behind the van and sprayed," said David Wallace, who was riding his motorcycle when he happened upon the commotion. "We were definitely in the line of fire."
Five hours after the standoff began, Uyesugi surrendered.
At the shooting scene, grieving relatives and co-workers gathered at a strip mall next to the Xerox building, where American Red Cross volunteers, state social workers and police counselors were waiting.
Co-workers hugged each other in the parking lot, their sobs filling the air.
One woman emerged from the conference room accompanied by a Catholic priest to watch the body of a loved one being removed from the building. After praying, she lifted her head to the sky, arms raised.
Lt. Frank Fujii, a Honolulu Police Department counselor, said the mission was simply "to get people through the day" and "hugs, lots of hugs."
"It was very trying for everybody," he said.
By Ben DiPietro