The day started normal enough - slogged to campus and got to my office around 8:15 AM, and spent the next hour and a half prepping for the class I was scheduled to teach at 10:10 AM. I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about teaching, as the cold I had been fighting off over the weekend was still hanging on. Around 9:30 AM I got an e-mail indicating that there had been a shooting on campus earlier in the morning. The first message urged caution, and a second message sent around 9:50 AM indicated: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows."
However, I didn't get the second message before leaving my building (Major Williams Hall) to head over to class. I collected my stuff, dawdled around a bit, tried to compose myself to teach, and finally left the building just before 10 AM. As I exited my building I encountered a student who was coming in - I let him pass through the door first, and didn't pay much attention to the anxious look on his face. Students often look anxious. But now I have a better sense for why. As I walked the very short distance to Torgersen Hall, I immediately noticed large numbers of students standing around outside and a fair number of police officers on Stanger Street. At first I thought that perhaps Torgersen had been evacuated, especially after bomb threats had closed the building twice in just over a week.
But then I looked across the clearing toward Holden Hall (located directly next to Norris Hall) and saw a line of students running out of a building. It was clear that some sort of evacuation was underway, and as I walked I found myself unsure of whether to head back to my office or try to meet up with some of my students in our appointed classroom. I decided on the latter, and found roughly twenty students hanging out in the room. We chatted on and off for the next little while, especially as new tidbits of information came through over cell phones and the Internet. After 10 AM the building was entirely locked down, and one of the building managers came through to make sure that the one outside door in our room was secure. Students from other classes slowly trickled in, and at some time after 11 AM one student offered to use his account to display a live CNN feed on the room's large A/V system (this was a large lecture hall with something like 300 seats). Somehow the time passed along, with some students occasionally stepping out for food or bathroom breaks, others watching movies on their laptops, and still others relentlessly looking for information online.
When the word came around noon that the campus was being evacuated in stages - and that those in our building were free to leave so long as they moved away from central campus - the details we had were quite sketchy. Most reports had confirmed one fatality and as many as seven or eight injuries. Another CNN report was indicating that as many as 17 had been injured.
I wished well to a few students and headed back to my office to retrieve my laptop and my lunch. By this time I felt reasonably safe, as it seemed the worst had passed and the mayhem around the building had abated. I followed a small trail of faculty, staffers, and students as they made their way toward the Schulz parking lot, where I found my truck and started home. Just on the other side of Main Street I heard a report on the local college station, WUVT, that as many as 20 had been confirmed dead, at least according to a press conference. I was skeptical, shocked, and dazed, and after getting home found that this grim report was indeed true. Little did we know that the total number of fatalities would climb to 33 by the end of the day.
At this point, I am not aware of any close friends or colleagues who were in Norris Hall at the time of the shooting. But I have since learned that one faculty member, whose office I regularly walk by, was likely among the victims. I didn't know him, but it really is profoundly sad to think that I had seen him working away in his office just a few days prior. Tomorrow we will likely find out whether any of the students in our ~120 student class were among the victims. And then, of course, there may be victims among the many former students who I have had the privilege of working with. We are already starting to brace for when we must next set foot in the classroom and dealing with this tragedy. The remainder of the semester will not be easy here.
I know not what lies ahead, but hope that this community can come together and find some way forward, out of this mess. For those outside of the community, please be thinking of us. We need all of the positive energy you can spare.