In the United States, mass shootings are normal.
Of course, when they happen, they’re followed by heartbroken communities, thoughts and prayers, and a heated debate over gun laws… and then the trend repeats.
The same cycle happened after the tragic mass shooting at Michigan State University on February 13th. The shooting took the lives of fellow Spartans Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser, and Alexandria Verner.
Like any other day, students went to class.
I woke up and attended my 12:40 biology lecture. I grabbed a bite to eat and briefly met up with some friends. At one point, I thought about going to the MSU Union- like I do almost every day- to get some homework done.
But this time, I spent the remainder of the afternoon in my dorm, Hubbard Hall.
I chose to attend Michigan State University for its strong journalism program, updated facilities, and sprawling, greenery-flush grounds. MSU was so ingrained with East Lansing, it drew my attention immediately; the city was the campus, and the campus was the city.
And it was true: despite being home to a whopping 50,000 students, MSU had a tight-knit community that felt like a true reflection of your classic, romanticized college life. With this in mind, I felt that by attending college in a more obscure, suburban area, I’d be able to avoid the gun violence epidemic that plagues the rest of the country.
I was wrong.
As the evening winded down, I decided it was time to get some dinner. I had planned on going to Snyder Phillips (a more centrally located dining hall) but I ended up going to Akers (east campus).
Just as I started to leave my own dorm, I got the first notification: active shooter threat.
I froze halfway out the door. The words “shelter in place” flashed across my screen, but what did they mean? We had never received such a message before, but more importantly, we had never taken campus alerts seriously.
I fled back to my room. This was 8:30 pm.
Just like that, the entire school entered what felt like eternal hypnosis.
At first, I was just waiting for a link to the local police radio. I went from sitting on my desk chair with the lights on and door locked, to crouching fearfully under my desk in pitch black darkness, my door clumsily barricaded by a dresser.
Minutes passed… then hours, just waiting.
Everything was in a frenzy. A grainy snapchat photo suggested that there were three active shooters on campus, while a hasty Tweet warned that bombs may have been placed in one dorm. On the police radio, reports of someone being forced at gunpoint to unlock the upper floors of residence halls flooded in.
As I scrambled to check on friends, I notified my family, who were already aware of the matter. Everyone was tuned in. A few hours in, we received a notification of three confirmed fatalities.
This update was a moment of somber realization for every student: there were victims.
The whole time that I had been listening to the police scanner, residence halls were being listed everytime a shot fired on campus was reported. The next one was no different: “Shots fired outside Hubbard Hall.” Everything went black as I registered my dorm’s name.
Heart thumping, I didn’t know what to make of it. Every pessimistic thought imaginable entered my already stress-addled mind. I was waiting for something- anything to let us all know it was finally over.
But the reprieve only came five hours later, at around 1:15 am.
At the live-streamed press conference, police announced that the shooter committed suicide after taking the lives of three students and leaving five critically injured.
I was on edge; the murders happened at Berkey Hall and the MSU Union. Why didn’t I go to the Union, I repeatedly asked myself. I had a class at Berkey Hall every Friday… This felt far too close and I knew it would fracture the community for years to come.
After the shooting, campus environment went silent. following the school’s decision to cancel classes for the remainder of the week, those who were able to went home.
But I couldn’t get away. I had to stay on campus because my family’s occupancy was still in Finland. Even as students began to slowly trickle back, something still felt hollow.
This was traumatizing. Having lived most of my life in Europe, the experience seemed otherworldly.
The shooting lasted approximately five hours. In response, the school told us to “Run. Hide. Fight.” At one point, the police scanner was being listened to by over 200,000 listeners.
Michigan State University sophomore Dipika Rao said growing up in America has desensitized her to such violence.
“Other countries don’t have this problem, and there’s a clear reason why: gun laws,” Rao said. “Even after everything that happened- after kids lost their lives- there were some students advocating for concealed carry licenses to be allowed on campus.”
Rao said that though she acknowledged the police’s efforts, the incident made her lose trust in the university.
“Five hours… it shouldn’t have gone on for so long,” she said. “I kept the door barricaded after the press conference, and I’ve never had to come to terms with dying like this before. We have to do better.”
Regarding the nature of such in Finland, there have been three school shootings in the European country, the Raumanmeri shooting of 1989, the Jokela school shooting in 2007, and the most recent incident being the Kauhajoki school shooting in 2008. While many may believe Finland is anti-gun and pro-pacifism, this is untrue. However, the laws are certainly stricter than those of their North American counterparts. For each firearm owned, one must have a ‘valid reason’ considered so by the authorities. The arms culture is also one to note; the United States certainly has a barrel of reasons in its arsenal as to why bearing arms is justified, one being the Second Amendment, such righteous culture is ingrained into many U.S. citizens due to this, and owning a gun has become more than a sole weapon to many, it has been visualized as a matter of principle, and removing the right to hold such would be an infringement of freedom according to said ideology.
The Second Amendment is not some simple screw that has been added to American laws; it is integrated into American culture. Seen as a strange inclusion in a constitution, in January and February 2023 in the country, there were 95 shootings. There are a few actions universities and schools can take. In this particular case, Michigan is an open carry state. While the campus regulations state that firearms are not permitted, there is scarily not much stopping an intruder from infiltrating said barriers.
It was undoubtedly a traumatizing experience for many. For me, it was my first and hopefully my last encounter with an event of such caliber, while for some students, it was their second in 15 months due to their attendance at Oxford High School during its shooting in November 2021.
“Students shouldn’t have to worry about their life while trying to finish education … I don’t think campus will ever be the same. The shooting really changed everything,” Rao said.
Since this, I have had an ever-ringing sense of doubt. And as difficult as it is to overcome, I forced myself to move on at the end of the day.
|- Since the shooting, most buildings have required an ID card to enter after 6:00 PM.
- Berkey Hall and the MSU Union have been closed since the event.
- The shooter left notes threatening schools in New Jersey and Colorado.
- Memorials and protests shortly followed the event.
By Satvik Shubham