Michigan State University recovers after a mass shooting that killed three and injured five. Photo courtesy of The State News.
GABI MORANDO | NEWS CO-EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
Yet another community has been left to grapple with the effects of a deadly mass shooting.
A 43-year-old man with no apparent connection to Michigan State University walked onto campus the night of Monday, Feb. 13, and opened fire in an academic building, Berkey Hall, and then in the student union.
This feels all too familiar. Police have tried to find a reason, survivors have recounted their trauma, politicians have denounced the act and a doctor has faced the reality of the lives that were unable to be saved. Three are dead, and five are wounded.
Kate Sapkowski, a senior neuroscience major at MSU, was at her desk doing homework when she heard the sirens.
“[My roommate and I] were watching from our apartment window as police cars kept coming into campus,” Sapkowski said. “It was the MSU police and the Lansing police and the state police and FBI, and we were like this is for real, this is really for real. Then it was reported that two people were dead from the police scanner … and our stomachs sort of dropped from that point … from like 8 to 11 p.m. me and my roommate [were] just sitting in our apartment like, ‘There’s nothing that we can do.’ You just have to sit and wait till it passes, but you don’t know when it’s gonna pass.”
Just under 250 miles away, many Butler students were frantically calling and texting their friends at MSU. Grace Lilly, a Grand Rapids native and sophomore speech, language and hearing sciences major, said she has never been more scared.
“I think it was around 8:20 I got a call from my best friend who goes there, Elaine, and she was just screaming, crying, sobbing,” Lilly said. “I couldn’t really make out what she was saying, but all that I did hear was ‘There’s a shooter on the floor above me’ … and then she was like, ‘I need to end the phone call, we’re ordered to be quiet. I’m not allowed to speak’ … I’ve never seen her more scared in her life, or heard her be more scared. I was terrified; like every single one of my friends goes [to MSU].”
Sophomore creative writing major Miranda Emerick has a cousin at MSU. After hearing about the active shooter, Emerick said she watched the news while also listening to the police scanner. As misinformation spewed out of the scanner and on social media, Emerick said she felt nothing but dread for what she would hear next.
“It was a lot,” Emerick said. “It was very overwhelming … trying to see what was actually happening and what wasn’t … There were so many calls and [so much] misinformation coming in. I heard that there were explosives, and I heard there were multiple shooters. There [was] so much going on. Nobody knew what actually was happening.”
Lilly also sat glued to the police scanner. She heard that the shooter was in her best friend’s dorm. Next it was someone in the boiler room, the basement, the floor above — everywhere.
“There were so many things that I was [texting Elaine], but also like, I didn’t even want to say things because I didn’t want her to freak out,” Lilly said. “ … The police scanner [was saying] there’s suspects that are dropping off black bags next to the dorms, and then they said the FBI was there, and there’s helicopters and there’s a bomb squad. That’s when I just started sobbing because if there’s bombs, then it’s over.”
Senior P2 pharmacy student Jon Gluth is Sapkowki’s best friend. Gluth and Sapkowski were texting throughout the night, but Gluth remembers the terror of not knowing if his other friends at the university were alive or not.
“I just remember not not being able to get a hold of several people until the next morning,” Gluth said. “In my brain at the time [was] like, what if they’re among the five more hospitalized? What if they’re among the dead? I did not sleep that night.”
Gluth, a Grand Rapids native, said MSU was one of the final three colleges he picked from as a high school senior. He said if it had not been for the pandemic, he would have transferred to MSU.
“To this day, had things just gone a little differently, I probably would have had a class in [Berkey Hall] too,” Gluth said. “It’s obviously not the same as reconciling being there, but reconciling the fact that I could have been there — it’s a scary thought.”
Sapkowski had a class earlier that day in one of the classrooms across from where the shooting took place.
“It feels so weird and wrong to say that Michigan State had a mass shooting, or I experienced a mass shooting,” Sapkowski said. “It feels very, very weird to say that.”
Alexandria Verner, one of the three victims, was in Sapkowski’s genetics class.
“It becomes so real, so close to you,” Sapkowski said. “And there’s not a word to describe that feeling.”
Sapkowski left campus on Tuesday, Feb. 14, the day after the shooting, and drove back on Sunday, Feb. 19. Even though students were greeted with streets full of volunteers and alumni offering support upon their return to campus, Sapkowski said MSU will never feel the same.
“How do you go back to this place where violence happened and people died?” Sapkowski said. “How do I walk past Berkey Hall now? How do I walk past the union? How do I think about this campus in the way that I want to think about it — the joy and community and friendship? … I just want to graduate so this will be over because it feels like a nightmare — a living nightmare, and I just want it to be over.”
Sapkowski and Gluth’s other friends at MSU are working to make sense of the situation and the fact that their last months on campus will be tainted by the outcome of one night.
“Their time at college is just not going to be what it was supposed to be,” Gluth said. “The next few months are not going to be where they’re supposed to be … their [college years are] never going to be about what they experienced. It’s going to be about those three hours on Monday, February 13th when a guy completely unaffiliated with the university came in and decided to shoot to kill. That is all their time is going to be remembered by.”
As his friends left MSU to try and recover after the shooting, Gluth was here at Butler — walking to class carrying the weight of what his friends went through and fearing what he would do if a shooter were to come onto campus.
“The greatest pain I’ve felt is being [at Butler] this [past] week,” Gluth said. “I wanted to be home. I wanted to be with my friends. And I felt I wasn’t, and I couldn’t. And that has been the worst pain I’ve been in [in] a very long time.”
The shooting at MSU came just before the deadliest weekend the United States has seen in 2023. 10 mass shootings took place from Feb. 17- Feb. 19.
Nine children, ages 5-17, were shot in Georgia.
Six people were killed in a rural Mississippi town.
11 people were shot in Memphis.
Four people were shot in Indianapolis.
Three people — two teenagers and an infant — were killed in Chicago.
Those are only half of the reported shootings that took place over the weekend according to the Gun Violence Archive.
As of Feb. 21, there have been 82 mass shootings in 52 days.
2022 saw 51 mass shootings in schools that resulted in injuries or deaths — the most ever recorded in a year.
There has been an ongoing outcry for action taken to enact stricter gun control legislation. Amidst years of protests and bills, the numbers of gun violence continue to rise.
Harsher gun control laws could have prevented the MSU shooter from buying a gun. In 2019, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit — a felony that if convicted, would have prevented him from being able to buy a gun — but a plea deal allowed him to plead guilty as a misdemeanor and receive a year and a half on probation.
“I think we’ve all kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that nothing’s ever going to change,” Gluth said. “The culture of guns is too entrenched in this country. I hate that it is … and there’s nothing we can do to convince enough of the country to let go of their guns.”
Gluth noted that the MSU shooting happened the day before the five-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Statistically, gun violence has only worsened since then. Gluth wonders when people will “wake the hell up” and change will be made.
“I’ve been able to put so much distance between myself and [mass shootings] over the years, but in the last 15 months I’ve been affected by the shooting at Oxford High School,” Gluth said. “My cousins went there. My friends go to Michigan State. I know that there are people who lived through Oxford 15 months ago, and then 15 months later had to deal with the same sh*t running out of the MSU student union. In what world is that okay?”
Emerick said she thinks the frequency of mass shootings has enabled them to continue. Living in a country where they are so common, sometimes happening multiple times a day, can make it hard for them to seem as tragic as they are.
“People are trained to just move on immediately after something happens,” Emerick said. “Not even just the sense of gun violence, but just in general, if anything bad happens, we’re kind of trained to move on because of the way social media [and news] moves.”
Sapkowski is frustrated that after a rush of media attention, it seems that MSU has already been forgotten about even while a university of over 50,000 students is left to pick up the pieces of an unthinkable tragedy.
“I think it really speaks to how numb and used to this we’ve all become,” Sapkowski said. “ … Maybe it’s because it didn’t happen at an elementary school, maybe it’s because the death toll wasn’t high enough, [but] it’s lost its shock value, which is insane to me, obviously. But at the same time, I almost understand because when you hear about these things in the news … you feel that there’s a level of separation between you and what happened … it creates this false illusion that it can’t happen to you, or it won’t happen to you, or these things are rare. But they do happen. They do happen to you. It happened to me, and it was my community on Monday, and it’s going to be someone else’s the next day.”
Lilly said she has spent the past week hyper aware and on edge. If a mass shooting can happen at MSU, Lilly feels like it can happen anywhere.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Lilly said. “We’re all college students, and [mass shootings] happen in America too much … We shouldn’t have to fear for our safety as we’re getting an education. There needs to be some sort of change because this is ridiculous.”
Like Lilly, Gluth is calling for change. Rather than MSU fading away as just another statistic, he hopes tangible action is taken to prevent further preventable shootings from taking place.
He offered up mandatory mental health screenings and yearly background checks as possible solutions. Gluth said anything that makes it harder for people who should not have guns to get guns is a step in the right direction. These measures are the bare minimum, he said.
“It’s just exhausting,” Gluth said. “Legislators, do your jobs. Do your freakin’ jobs. We elect you to do that. Do it. That’s it.”
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