This time, it was my own alma mater.
I can only describe it as torment, the feeling that washed over me Monday evening as I watched America’s latest casualty count – this time at Michigan State University.
Three dead. Five others critically injured. At my own alma mater. On the campus where I grew up, trained to become a journalist and met lifelong friends.
Among those same friends Monday night, text messages flew. I watched for the updates.
But before I go on, let me make one thing clear. This is not a story about me. It is about you. About all of us.
I hate to say it, but none of us can stay untouched by gun violence in America.
We like to think we are immune. We check each breaking news alert and are thankful it wasn’t nearby. We text that friend or family member – Are you safe? – and we’re thankful the answer is yes.
And that allows us to keep going. To clear the news alert from the screen.
Life goes on. Except for those who are dead. Except for the families of the dead.
This time, it was my own alma mater. But this is not about me. It’s about Michigan State.
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This where the Red Cedar River snakes through campus, and so does the open path we call the tundra, the one we walked from the dorm to the student union on frozen winter mornings.
When I was a reporter at the student newspaper, the State News, I’d walk the tundra and chat with people. It was where I’d get story ideas. Where I could meet close friends, student activists and star collegiate athletes in the same trip.
When I roamed those buildings, that campus, those were some of the best times of my life. The freedom I felt. The lessons learned. The people. Geeks like me. Life-changing professors. High achievers and those who liked to party. The Spartan community at its finest. In those days we were only bleeding green and white.
Now students are dead. Now real blood has spilled.
Now the student union where I went to class is the place where a student was fatally shot Monday, and others were wounded.
Now the student newspaper I once ran is covering its own mass shooting.
But this is not about me. It’s about our children.
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Today Michigan State is the place where I have friends who work as instructors teaching new students. Friends whose children now attend class. Friends who, like me, can’t fathom a random act of violence within the tranquility of such a lush space. Where a river runs through it.
I couldn’t bear to turn from the television. I knew there would be more of what I had already seen: those students running for their lives. I imagined the frantic phone calls from concerned parents and friends. The fear. The panic. The sadness.
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I thought, most of these students have likely participated in active shooter drills. They’ve been trained to prepare for the worst. They know how to secure in place. They know to barricade furniture against classroom doors. They know to silence their phones and shrink into corners. Invisible.
RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.
That’s what university officials instructed students in a mass alert:
“Run means evacuate away from danger if you can do so safely, Hide means to secure-in-place, and Fight means protect yourself if no other option.”
Of course, the students didn’t need that explanation. They’ve been learning it their whole lives.
I thought, those poor babies. Yes, they are adults. But they are babies still, the ones walked in for the first day of kindergarten, the ones who waited in their classrooms for that first lockdown drill, door bolted, lights off.
In those frightening hours Monday night in East Lansing, I know they wanted their mother or father again. I know they wanted to feel safe and secure. Loved.
I know what it’s like to look at a group of babies that need to be loved.
All of us
On Monday afternoon, just hours before I got the news alert, I had published a story I poured my heart into, about a man who spent his life trying to stop gun violence.
He started a youth football league and recruited a generation of kids from his neighborhood in Indiana. He knew that having somebody to care for those kids could give them a chance to avoid violence.
Then last month, someone shot him.
I published his story on Monday afternoon.
And that very same night, here it was again, unstoppable. At my own alma mater.
But this is not about me. It’s about you. About all of us.
“Our Spartan community is reeling today,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a MSU graduate, said at a Tuesday morning news briefing.
This is about Michigan State. Because Monday night, I went to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok for more updates. Professors and instructors marking themselves “safe” on social media.
“Safe.” Are we?
This is about the children. Because Monday night, parents in alumni groups started posting that they would be driving to East Lansing to pick up their children, and offering to bring back others who needed a ride. For the ones whose families live too far away to travel, I have friends who are opening their homes to keep them safe and warm. Loved.
The good people always show up in these situations. We find comfort in them.
But make no mistake. This is about all of us. Because not one of us will be untouched.
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The 43-year-old gunman killed and then died. He was located off campus. He suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.
“We have absolutely no idea what the motive was,” said Chris Rozman, deputy chief of campus police.
Yet here are things we do know: America glorifies the gun culture. Elementary students have been slaughtered. So have those in high school. College, too. People die when they go to music festivals. They are cut down at the mall. While in a club. At a dance hall. In a movie theater. Driving down the interstate.
When the next time arrives, we can check in quickly, so quickly. Was it close? Are you safe? And that allows us to keep going. To clear the news alert from the screen.
This is not about me. It’s about us.
America is broken – at least this piece of it, this part of ourselves that lets this go on. And every time we normalize this monster, this gun lunacy, we break again. It’s a remarkably consistent contagion.
And so I ask: what will truly be the breaking point? When will we be shattered beyond repair?
How will this national obscenity end?
Suzette Hackney is a national columnist. Reach her on Twitter: @suzyscribe.
Story Credit: usatoday.com