Unfortunate events transpire every single day. In fact, it’s near impossible to turn on the news these days and see anything other than disagreement and crime and general unhappiness. But as you see these news stories unfolding, that’s all they are: stories. You are not a character in them, but an observer. And no matter how upsetting they may be, no matter how much you empathize with those involved, it’s customary to move on with your life before too long.
But it’s different when it happens to you.
On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, tragedy struck Purdue University’s campus. My campus.
In my year and a half here, I have never felt unsafe, have never felt as if my life was in danger. I’m sure the majority of my fellow Boilermakers could say the same. That changed yesterday.
Tuesday started out as an ordinary day. People felt a little more refreshed than usual because we didn’t have school the day before since we were honoring Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. I got to sleep in since my first class wasn’t until noon, but before that I got lunch with my friend Colleen and we got to catch up. I wasn’t really looking forward to the day; the week before was our first week back after winter break, and it took a toll on me with how busy it was and how much work I had to do. But lunch with Colleen started off my day right, and I headed to my Science and Pseudoscience class in good spirits, especially since Jess and my friend Alyssa were both in it.
Class started off well. My professor, Dr. York, was our faculty fellow for our floor last year, and he’s super old but super fun. We started class with smelling and tasting various lunch meats while blindfolded (testing for bologna and working on our skeptic abilities), so it was pretty lighthearted and fun. After about 20 or so minutes of this, we hear ambulance sirens going off outside, but didn’t think anything of it. Then, a few minutes later, a kid in our class raises his hand.
“There’s been a shooting on campus. Can I call my brother?”
At this point, phones began finding their way out of backpacks and purses despite still being in the middle of class. Sure enough, everyone had gotten Purdue’s alert text, confirming the worst:
“Shooting reported on campus. Bldg Electrical Engineering; Avoid area; Shelter in place. Check http://www.purdue.edu for updates”
Nobody knew what to think just then. We didn’t have any information to really have any thoughts at the time. Dr. York didn’t seem concerned, so he continued his lecture, but nobody was really paying attention because we were trying to figure out what was happening via social media. Within 20 minutes of that Purdue text, my phone started blowing up with texts asking if I was okay. Many of them were friends from Purdue, but I even had people from Illinois and Colorado and California asking me what was going on and if I was safe. Within 20 minutes, the entire country knew what was happening at Purdue when we, who were actually on campus, barely knew a thing. Then my mom called and I assured her I was okay. Students in class started getting worried and Dr. York jokingly locked the door, but he finally found it pointless to continue lecture when everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere.
We all got a text explaining that we were on lockdown and that we shouldn’t leave our buildings while the police were figuring things out. During this time, rumors were flying, and nobody was able to confirm or deny them.
There were multiple shooters.
Besides EE, they were in Physics, Heavilon, and the Co-Rec.
Pictures were circulating Twitter of what may have been students holding assault rifles that students in class had snapped from their classroom windows. (This was later denied when we found out that cops were surrounding buildings in street clothes, but that didn’t make it any less scary at the time)
I don’t think anyone’s eyes left their phones during this time. Some were texting friends, some calling parents and assuring them they were okay, and others were checking news sites and Twitter trying to find out what exactly was going on. Some people were getting upset when they weren’t able to contact a friend or family member, and they had every right. It was scary.
At almost 1:30, about an hours since lockdown had been put into place, we all got a text giving the all-clear: we were allowed to “resume normal operations.”
Wait, what? It’s only been an hour! Did the police have enough time to search and detain all suspects? Were all the buildings safe and secure? Did they really expect us to “resume normal operations” after a shooting had just taken place on campus?!
In a daze, we all left. I still had 2 more classes, so I made my way to my next building, but it felt weird to be walking around out in the open, despite the fact that everyone was doing the same.
I got to my next class, but since there was still so much uncertainty about what to do and half our class was missing, my professor cancelled it. I spent the next hour and a half before my next class in the Technology Resource Center looking up everything I could about the situation. I checked all the major news sites, Purdue sites, Twitter, Facebook…everything I could to get as much information as possible. I then watched the live press conference with Purdue’s police chief and our provost. From all my research, I had found out that there had been 1 victim in the shooting; a male TA. It had been a deliberate act of malice, not a random shooter. On Twitter, everyone was so upset that we had been expected to continue with our lives as if nothing happened. They thought class should have been cancelled so we could all gather our thoughts and figure out what was happening. It wasn’t until later, after my final class, that they made the announcement that classes were cancelled for Wednesday out of respect for the situation.
Reading the comments people left in response to the articles didn’t make me feel any better. Some were debating gun laws, some were blaming the family of the shooter for not raising him right, and others were saying that there is a difference between a shooting at a school and a school shooting and that it was nowhere near as bad as Columbine had been. It made my blood boil to read what these people were saying. Didn’t these people realize that a tragedy had just occurred and that people were suffering on campus?? It didn’t matter if only one person had died; that was still someone’s child, someone’s friend. As if we could start comparing the awfulness of tragedies. Didn’t they know that a period of healing was in order before this speculation could occur?? I couldn’t read any more.
I also watched the 6:00 news where they held a second press conference, releasing the names of those involved. Andrew Boldt was the TA that had been killed. And it became all too real to me when I started seeing images of my campus plastered all over the news. My school was on TV. I also found out that our president, Mitch Daniels, was in Colombia and was supposed to be there for a few more days, but that he would return the next day in light of what happened.
At 8:00 last night, Purdue Student Government put on a candlelight vigil. At 7:40, Jess and some girls on my floor, Elaine and Sarah, and I donned multiple pairs of pants, coats, hats, scarves, and blankets to brave the 0 degree weather. We headed to the Engineering Fountain where the vigil was being held, and boy was it a beautiful site to see. Hundreds and hundreds of students were huddled together in the freezing cold, candles in hand, ready to commemorate the life lost and to get some closure of sorts. There were so many people there, breaths visible because of the cold, but it was silent. Nobody dared make a sound.
As the last bell struck 8 in our iconic bell tower, the ceremony began with the drumline marching in. Our student body president, Kyle Pendergast, spoke, as well as provost Tim Sands. He read a statement sent from Mitch Daniels, and it was very eloquent and well-spoken. The Purduettes and I think the Glee Club also performed. It was only about 30 minutes, but it was perfect, and I think it helped many students. We all felt a little better after that, and it was beautiful to see all these Boilermakers rallying together.
It’s different when it happens to you. When you’re there, when you directly see how a tragic event affects people, it seems worse. The fact that someone could so deliberately want to harm a fellow Boilermaker is alarming, but prayers are needed for all parties involved. I want to thank everyone, all my friends and family, who texted or called me to make sure I was safe during this time, and I thank God that my friends were safe too. Thank you for all the prayers directed our way; it’s a trying time for us all, but I know my Boilermaker family will stand together through it all.
Ever Grateful, Ever True.