Run. Hide. Fight. On Feb. 13 around 8:30 p.m., a Michigan State University alert instructed myself and my three roommates, along with nearly 50,000 other MSU students, to take any of these measures in response to the reports of “shots fired” on campus.
Over the next four hours, as an armed individual injured five students and took the lives of three others, my roommates and I were separated, experiencing one traumatic event in three entirely different environments and conditions.
My roommate Katelyn Naert and I fled Bessey Hall to the basement of the Alpha Chi Omega house, a sorority neither of us are members of. Meanwhile, my second roommate Bella Ventimiglio sat alone listening to the police radio scanner, locked in the dorm room she shares with Naert. My third roommate Zoe Schantz was barricaded in the gym of the IM West building with a group of strangers. Over the course of the night, the four of us communicated solely through a text group chat, sharing information, our fears and our love for each other.
I spoke with each of my roommates about our separate experiences of that night, learning how each of us grappled with a reality we never thought possible for ourselves, and how we continue to cope in the aftermath of that night’s events.
Monday, Feb. 13, 8:28 p.m.
Schantz: Are any of you near the union???
Seay: no, me and katelyn are at vim
Seay: and i’m pretty sure bella’s in the dorm
Schantz: Ok bc someone said there’s a shooter
That evening, Schantz was attending a club meeting in an IM West classroom when a fellow club member stood and announced there were shots fired near campus. With no concept of where the gunman was or if anyone had been injured, the group cautiously assumed the shots were a contained incident near Grand River Avenue, an occurrence not uncommon for the area. Minutes later, they received the MSU alert informing students that there was an active shooter on campus.
“At first, I didn’t realize how serious it was,” Schantz said. “I’ve received those texts before. I thought it was one of those alerts just saying ‘don’t move, it will be over soon.’ It ended up not being over soon and turned into a very scary, stressful situation.”
Sitting in a crowded classroom in Bessey Hall, Naert and I received Schantz’s text during a meeting for VIM Magazine, a student-run fashion publication. As we exchanged panicked and confused glances with other attendees who were likely receiving texts similar to the ones we had just read, an alert flashed onto the projector screens we were using. The subject line read “Shots Fired.”
“My chest tightened,” Naert said. “I just remember freezing, and my immediate thought was ‘We took the bus here. We have nowhere to go and we’re in an open lecture hall in the same neighborhood as the Union.’”
Monday, Feb. 13, 8:32 p.m.
Naert: MSU police just sent an alert
Schantz: Please don’t leave your meeting
Naert: We did
Naert: We are in somebody’s car
Before Naert and I could begin to formulate a plan of action, our decision was made for us.
“I have three seats open in my car. Do you two need a ride?” asked the girl sitting behind us. We accepted and ran from Bessey to the neighboring parking garage, piling into the stranger’s car with her friends and driving off campus to their sorority house.
“When it’s a fight or flight situation, I tend to go into flight mode naturally,” Naert said. “Even though our moms were on the phone telling us to stay and barricade, I knew I just wanted to leave. Since it was near us, I knew it may not have been the best idea, but it was my immediate reaction.”
Back at the dorm, Ventimiglio was completing assignments for the week’s upcoming classes when she decided to take a break and check her phone. Her notifications were anything but the decompressing study break she was hoping for. Like Schantz, she initially assumed the MSU alert was regarding an off-campus altercation. However, as texts continued to flood in, including messages stating as many as 11 people had been injured, Ventimiglio realized her assumption was very wrong.
“I was shocked when I realized what was happening,” Ventimiglio said. “I never thought we’d be in that situation where students were getting hurt, much less killed.”
Monday, Feb. 13, 8:43 p.m.
Ventimiglio: 11 people hurt
Naert: We might be going to the drivers sorority house
Ventimiglio: Do that
Ventimiglio: I would stay off campus
“I wasn’t as freaked out as everyone else,” Ventimiglio said. “I knew I was in the safest place any of us could have been, so I was more concerned about making sure the others were safe than worrying about myself. It was scary to be in the dorm alone, but I didn’t want Katelyn to risk going through campus to get back.”
Arriving at the Alpha Chi Omega house, Naert and I were directed to the chapter room in the basement, where we would spend the hours until the shooter was located with around 100 members of the sorority. We collapsed into two red-cushioned chairs in the second row of seats that, on a typical Monday night, would be filled with chapter members excited to discuss the sorority’s upcoming socials and fundraisers.
That night, they were filled with women sobbing on the phone to friends and family, huddling around laptops playing the muffled police radio scanner and staring in silence at two mounted TVs in the front of the room, watching CNN update the tally of victims with hourly updates.
“The situation in which we had to come together was unfortunate, but I felt oddly comforted to know that these people who didn’t even know me were being so protective and kind to me,” Naert said. “We were in a room with a lot of girls and many of them, including myself, were crying. But it was nice to know others felt the same and I was in a place where I could let out my emotions.”
Monday, Feb. 13, 9:04 p.m.
Schantz: Everyone still doing alright?
Ventimiglio: Everyone still ok?
Schantz: Got moved to fitness center
Naert: Is everybody okay
Schantz: Still locked in fitness center
Ventimiglio: Everyone still good
Naert: Yes are u
Ventimiglio: [Our friend] was in the union when shots were fired
Ventimiglio: Someone get in contact with him
Naert: He’s okay
“When we got to the locked basement, my immediate reaction was that we were safe,” Naert said. “It wasn’t until around 11 p.m. that I finally started processing what was happening. Up until then, I was just trying to make sure everyone was OK and tell my parents that I loved them. I was letting people that don’t go to State know that I was alright. I wasn’t thinking ‘We’re in a mass shooting.’ All I could think about was making sure everyone I knew was OK.”
Monday, Feb. 13, 10:44 p.m.
Naert: All the cars are crazy
Naert: And the swat
Naert: I feel like I’m dreaming
Naert: We will see how I feel but like I think I want to go [home]
Naert: My mom said she would come get us all too
“When Katelyn suggested going home, all I could think was ‘Why would we stay?’” Ventimiglio said. “It didn’t feel right to stay in that environment the day after everything happened and I knew we’d probably all feel better if we processed things at home with our families.”
Schantz: Love you guys
Naert: Are u good
Ventimiglio: Love you too
Ventimiglio: Stay safe please
Schantz: They shushed us and everyone rushed to second floor of fitness center
Ventimiglio: Stay safe
Naert: Stay safe I love you
Ventimiglio: Everyone still ok
Schantz: I literally have never feared for my life more than when everyone rushed upstairs. There was a bang too. Apparently it was police clearing the building
After attempting to barricade the classroom door, Schantz and other club members were relocated to the main gym facility of IM West, where students rested on yoga mats and treadmill belts, anxiously waiting to be evacuated by police or given the all clear.
Around 10:45 p.m., the group was shushed and moved to the upper level of the gym area. Soon after, they heard a loud bang. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later that they received confirmation that the noise had come from police evacuating students from the building.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Schantz said. “I was very powerless and I just had to trust the system, especially in that moment. When [the bang] happened, it went dead silent. Everybody rushed upstairs and you could just see the fear in people’s faces. Everybody felt it to their core because we didn’t know what was happening. In that moment, I don’t know how I processed it. I think it was just shock and fear.”
Monday, Feb. 13, 11:42 p.m.
Ventimiglio: 3 dead 5 injured
Tuesday, Feb. 14, 12:22 a.m.
Ventimiglio: Police tape around the area of where [the suspect] shot himself there is a body in the street
Naert: He’s dead
Schantz: Hopefully I’m out of [IM West] soon
Schantz: Got the all clear, should be out soon
Schantz: Love you guys
Ventimiglio: Love you guys too
Naert: Justice and I are back at dorm
Schantz: Ok thank God
Schantz: I love you guys so much
Schantz: Someone I went to high school with was one of the victims
In the early hours of Feb. 14, the gunman who had opened fire on eight of our fellow students was located miles from campus, but soon died soon after from a self-inflicted gunshot. In the hours and days to come, we would learn that we had lost three members of our university’s community, with five others hospitalized for critical injuries.
Two of the victims, sophomore Brian Fraser and junior Arielle Anderson, were from Schantz’s hometown, Grosse Pointe. Fraser was in Schantz’s graduating class at Grosse Pointe South High School.
“It wasn’t easy to deal with, and I’m still kind of dealing with it because so many of my friends were friends with Brian, and some with Arielle too,” Schantz said. “Avoiding social media was best for me, but you could just feel it in the air [in Grosse Pointe]. You’d be driving and drive past the high school and you could just see all the flowers at the rock and how it was painted. There were news vans at Saint Paul’s Church and flags were half mast. It was just off and you knew it was off.”
The past two weeks have shown us, along with the MSU community, that healing is not a linear process. As many of us attended memorials for the victims and a protest against gun violence at the Capitol, and then returned to our classrooms and lecture halls, we were faced with the challenge of continuing on with our lives and our education. The community we love and the campus we once felt safe on is forever changed.
“The first week back, it was very up and down,” Naert said. “I processed things very early on. I cried to my mom the next morning, on and off for about 24 hours, and then I just felt numb. When we went to the vigil, it was so eerie to think that everything had happened less than 48 hours ago. Knowing that we’ve been back for weeks with no incidents has made me feel better, but there will always be a part of me that knows campus will never feel the same.”