Spartans find ways to move forward from survivor’s guilt

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Julianne Noye

Handwritten posters with the words “Spartan Strong” hanging outside of Berkey Hall with flower bouquets in tribute to the lives lost in the Feb. 13 shooting.

It was always exciting getting out of my media law and ethics class at Michigan State University at 7:30 p.m. because it marked the end of a long day of classes. But on Feb. 13, what started as a normal night would end with the campus being altered from that night on.

Coming back to my apartment after class on Feb. 13, I was relieved to enjoy some time for myself, watch my TV shows and then prepare for the next school day. My dance club had an event at Holden Hall, which started while I was in class. It wasn’t until 8:47 p.m. that messages from the club group chat came in, asking if everyone was safe. I was confused about the messages, and then I received an emergency alert email notification. The subject read “Shots Fired.” 

An email from the university’s emergency alert system stated, “MSU Police report shots fired incident occurring on or near the East Lansing campus. Secure-in-Place immediately. Run, Hide, Fight.” 

At first, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had been in class located in the center of campus less than an hour ago. My heart dropped, and I immediately thought about my friend Celia Lanser, who had yet to arrive in East Lansing from the train after a weekend in Chicago with her sister Trina. They both live on Grand River Avenue where the shooting occurred, and I was scared they could potentially get caught in the midst of it. 

I texted Celia wondering if she knew what was going on. 

“A lot of the people on the train were MSU students, and so I actually didn’t see the email at first,” Celia said. “Trina tapped me on the shoulder, and she has this super concerned face on her, like, ‘Did you just see the email?’”

The entire road of Grand River was shut down. The train station was far from the scene, but I couldn’t sit at home knowing that my friends were stuck outside while this was going on. Because I lived off campus, it was best to have my friends come over to stay safe while we waited. 

My anxiety escalated as I left the parking garage. The roads felt eerily quiet, and I had a growing impatience to pick up my friends and get back to my apartment as quickly as possible. At this point, I was not aware of the suspect’s whereabouts because he hadn’t been located yet. They could have been walking anywhere. 

After picking up my friends and arriving back at my apartment, I tried to remain calm and not break down. In a sense, I felt like this still was not real. That’s when we started to receive a flow of messages from family members and friends back home. 

It started to hit me a little more, but for some reason, I still felt an odd sense of calm during the moment. It’s all going to end soon, I thought. I had not yet heard of any casualties. 

But then, my friend Arianna Hyman texted me. She told me a student was already dead. 

I went on the MSU police and public safety Twitter account to get any more updates along with logging into the police scanner to listen to the live emergency calls. 

At the same time, more phone calls were coming in from my relatives, and I tried to talk as quickly as possible to end the phone calls. With the police scanner in the background and multiple tweets coming from the MSU Police Department account, too many things were happening at once, and my anxiety was slowly starting to get the best of me. For the sake of my friends, I wanted to remain strong in front of them as Trina was already full of emotions. 

We turned the TV to CNN, and the school was already being talked about on the live news coverage. I saw students being interviewed outside of Berkey Hall where the shooting initially started. For the next three hours, it was just a waiting game between Celia, Trina and I, listening to the police scanner and watching CNN. 

Every time a new casualty was confirmed, my heart dropped. And every time a new update from the scanner claimed that there were screams or more shots fired at other buildings around campus, I felt like I was going to be sick.

I wanted to go to sleep but felt wrong to do so. And then we heard on the scanner that the suspect had killed himself. Officials confirmed that five students were injured along with three that died. Final news reports broadcasted around 1:00 a.m. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep for the rest of the night. 

It was going to be hard for Celia and Trina to sleep at my apartment because there wasn’t enough space for three people. We all decided it was best if I dropped them off at Celia’s apartment on Grand River. 

Driving through campus took longer than usual. Caution tape signs were at the end of each road. It was a constant pattern of backing out only to drive into another dead end. I could not stand to look down the road as there were still a lot of police cars investigating the scene. After dropping the others off, driving back to my apartment was terrifying. 

I was alone at 4:00 a.m. and the campus was deserted. Students that were barricaded inside the academic buildings had long gone back to their places of residence, and the lively campus that I once knew no longer felt that way to me. 

At one point on my way back, I had to drive past Berkey Hall. I had a lot of classes there in the past. Knowing the layout of the building and imagining that students were probably hiding in those small classrooms with no way out made the image more clear in my head. 

I tried going to bed when I got back to my apartment, but it never came. I probably slept for about 30 minutes. The following morning, my dad called asking if I was OK and urged me to come home. I broke down. The unfazed mask that I had during the shooting was long gone, and I was hit with the realization that this campus had forever changed.  

I spent the majority of the day crying. A sense of survivor’s guilt was starting to get the best of me. I wasn’t on campus when the shooting occurred. I wasn’t barricaded in a classroom for four hours like others. I was in the comfort of my own apartment, safe and away from campus. I asked myself, why am I crying as if I was the one that saw the shooter firsthand in the classroom in Berkey or in the Union? 

I had been able to remain calm during the event, but as the shock wore off, my paranoia began to grow. I still kept on hearing yelling that felt like screams and door slams that sounded like gunshots. I had the urge to ask my friends if they were hearing what I was hearing, but I didn’t want to worry them anymore. So I kept my fears to myself. I decided to go home for the remainder of the week. Had the university not extended its closure for the rest of the week I would have stayed in East Lansing.

When I arrived home, my mom hugged me and broke down in tears. “It could have been anyone,” she said. 

Going on social media for the remainder of the week was really hard. As a journalist, we are always trying to seek out news to write stories, but we were the news this time. Our school had been put in the national spotlight for a senseless tragedy. We are now another mass shooting that has been added to the list of the numerous shootings that have occurred this year alone. 

I called my friend Kay C. who was still on campus to see how she was handling everything. 

“It was Wednesday when I really cried, like when the vision was happening. It was like I couldn’t believe this happened on our campus” Kay said. 

“I feel like the incident happened to MSU but it also happened to East Lansing,” Kay said. “In the blink of an eye East Lansing felt so unsafe, you know? And for me being an immigrant, this was the first place where I felt like it was my home, and I kind of feel like the incident stole that from me a little bit.”

My week at home was a time for healing. I talked to my therapist and still kept in touch with my peers as we were going through this experience. Spending time doing hobbies I enjoyed was my escape for the time being. But the guilt was still affecting me because I felt that I should be focusing on what happened at school. We always hear about mass shootings in America, but it didn’t really affect me emotionally until it happened in my own backyard, my campus that I considered home for the last four years. The media had published so much news and so many interviews of MSU students that are sharing their experiences about this event. Everyone was talking about it for about a week, but then I noticed that the shooting was making headlines less and less. Our school was less relevant because another shooting in another state happened, and then another, and another.

That is how the cycle continues. A mass shooting occurs, and there is national attention for a couple of days, and then everyone goes back as if it’s just another normal week for them. But it’s not normal for the parents who lost their children nor the ones that were in the midst of the shooting. “Thoughts and prayers” have become the new automatic phrase when a tragedy like this happens. 

 I hope for the day when laws are implemented to prevent tragedies like this from ever occurring again. The bright energetic feeling on campus was taken away from us that horrific evening. Our Spartan family has slowly been able to rebuild itself by helping each other and providing a safe space for those that need it. We’re trying to embody our new motto of “Spartan Strong.”

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