Aftermath


On Tuesday morning, a 19-year-old sophomore put on a ski mask and carried an AK47 onto our campus at UT. He started by the fountain in front of the tower, and took several shots toward the church across the street. Then he shot several more times into the air. As people started running from him, he walked by them all and into the PCL – our library. He walked past everyone in the library, went to the sixth floor, and took his own life.
Emergency text messages went out. For awhile, they thought there was a second shooter. They locked us down for four and a half hours, and sent SWAT teams into our buildings.
It’s been four days.
And I’ve been debating how to write about this. What do you do, after all, when things crash around you? Do you talk about it? Do you keep it to yourself, in the hopes of not depressing others? Do you share your story and hope that other people can relate to it? Do you risk being honest about how afraid you were? Still are?
I didn’t know.
So instead of writing, I’ve spent the past four days doing the only thing I know how to do when things go wrong. I’ve been cooking, cleaning, and crafting.
Apple pie. Banana Cream. Spaghetti and Meatballs. I now have enough spaghetti leftovers in my fridge to feed the entire apartment complex.
I decorated for Halloween. I bought gift bags so that I could make party mix.
Essentially, in the aftermath of tragedy, I turned into Martha Stewart.
But the truth is, what happened on Tuesday is hitting all of us a little close to home. And in the words of my favorite literature professor, Dr. Richmond-Garza, it would be obscene not to acknowledge that it happened.
I am terribly sad for the young man and his family. I can’t imagine what one would have to experience to feel that there was no hope – no reason in living.
I am also terribly angry.
I’m angry at him for doing it. I’m angry that, because he did this, I don’t feel completely safe on my campus anymore. I’m angry that nobody saw it coming.
I’m angry that the school officials decided to pick up on Wednesday morning and carry on, business as usual, when so many students are going to feel the effects of this incident for weeks and months. Just give us a day – For God’s sake, just give us a day to deal with the shock.
I’m angry that the newscasters spent time talking about what a lovely young man the shooter was. I’m angry that the story has all but disappeared, because he didn’t kill anyone but himself. I’m angry that news is only news when more than one person dies… never mind the feelings of unease that remain on our campus. I’m angry at the people who comment on the news stories online.
Mostly, I think I’m afraid.
On Tuesday morning, I walked by the library around 7:30. I was on my way to class. By 7:45, the incident had started.
I didn’t know this at the time, because I was in my classroom, doing Russian homework and waiting on the rest of the students to arrive.
Our professor got in, and we started our performances. It was a theatre class.
Then the sirens went off, and the text messages started pouring in. Emergency Text alerts from our campus police saying that there was an armed suspect on campus, to stay where we were, and lock the doors.
The sirens kept going off. I’m still having trouble hearing sirens.
Everyone froze. We did what we were told, and locked ourselves in the classroom. Our professor tried to have us carry on, and maybe we did… I’m not sure. Because whatever everyone else was doing, I was sitting there looking around thinking, Oh God… Virginia Tech?
When one of our students got to class late, because campus was barricaded, and knocked on the door, I swear I jumped half a mile out of my seat. We eventually gave up carrying on as normal, as the text messages kept coming in, this time from parents and friends. The story had hit the news.
I fielded calls from my parents. I called Kelly. I sent text messages to everyone I knew on campus. I went into hyperoverdrive mode, pulling out the computer and getting the news up online.
We found out that the young man had committed suicide. But then the sirens went off again, and they sent out more messages, telling us there was a second shooter.
Quietly, discreetly, I placed myself in the corner of the room, with my computer.
The other students seemed to be less bothered by this. They were already sure that someone had made a mistake. They started playing games. They turned on music and danced.
I sat in the corner. Because I couldn’t be sure. And because I was afraid. And because I needed to keep up to date on the news, because it was something useful to do.
Later, I was talking to one of the other students in my class. “Where were YOU?” He asked me. “I didn’t even see you in the room.”
Pretty impressive, seeing as we spent four and a half hours stuck there. Of course, I don’t handle being locked anywhere very well.
There was no second shooter, as it turned out. In panic, people had made reports of what they thought they saw. But I’m not sure that it matters that there wasn’t a second shooter. They told us there was one. Some of us thought they might be right. And it was the fear that there MIGHT be that was troubling.
And the realization that it could have so easily been so much worse. The young man who killed himself was apparently intent upon harming no one else. But still, he fired shots on our campus that could have easily hit other people. Had he wanted to do harm, he could have unloaded his weapon in the library.
It was so EASY. It would have taken thirty seconds.
And that’s where the fear comes from. Not from what did happen, but from what could have. From the fear that we felt when we were first told that there was a shooter on campus. From the images that flashed through our minds of Virginia Tech, of Columbine, even of the Tower shootings so many years ago.
People are making jokes now. People are acting like it wasn’t a big deal. But if you ask me, every person who was locked down on that campus thought, at least once, of what it would be like if the shooter came into THEIR classroom. 
When I got home, I read messages on facebook and twitter. People who were trying to find each other that morning, when the panic was still widespread. People who just wanted to tell their families that they loved them. And it really hit me then. As I looked at the news photos and footage of SWAT teams in Calhoun – in my favorite building, the one where my favorite professors spend their time – I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like if it had been what it COULD have been.
And truth be told, I’m still doing that.
Going back to campus on Wednesday was hard. And I only stayed for one class.
Because every time I heard a siren, or saw a police car, or heard the sounds of jackhammers and nailguns being used in campus construction, my stomach churned, and I fought the urge to hide behind the nearest tree.
And even though most people aren’t talking about it, I can’t help but feel like there are others experiencing this too. And even more who will experience it, but don’t know it yet. Trauma works that way sometimes.
I wonder how long it will take for campus to feel the same as it did before. Or if it will ever feel that way again.
I wonder what the young man’s parents are going through, and I pray for them. And while I do feel sorrow for the life that was lost, I am so incredibly grateful that it stopped there.
Now, it’s just a matter of surviving the aftermath. But that is something we’ll all do together. And in time, things will feel more normal again.
*Bobs

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