• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

I Experienced Two Campus Shootings in Nearly Two Weeks at my American University

ByAlice Jenkins

Sep 21, 2023
Young protesters brandish gun reform placards.

Content warning: This article includes subjects matter readers may find disturbing and upsetting including gun use, child endangerment and school shootings.

Alice Jenkins is an exchange student from the University of Edinburgh studying at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

28th August 2023

I had been in America for 10 days when I first experienced a school shooting for the first time. 

I was in a politics class. It’s the second Monday of the academic year. It was around 1PM, we’d been in class for around half an hour and were just continuing as normal. 

Suddenly on the screen an emergency alert came up saying someone dangerous and armed was on campus. Students around me received a text saying the same and alarm sirens started going off. Our classroom was in the middle of campus. Everyone at first was silent and confused, including the professor. People slowly began to close the shutters. Nobody really moved.

The professor turned off the lights and computer and wanted to make sure we were comfortable. Some students in the hall ran into our classroom for shelter and the professor locked the doors behind them. He wasn’t convinced the doors actually locked properly. There wasn’t much space to hide and the doors had windows so people outside could see in. It didn’t matter, we had no choice but to stay in the classroom. I looked at the two doors which gave access to the classroom. All someone had to do was open them and we were no longer safe.

Everyone was messaging everyone they knew and checking everyone was safe whilst trying to find out as much information as they could. Someone said that the shooter was in a building right next to ours. I started to feel sick. 

A boy who knew I was English got up and came and sat on the floor next to me to make sure I was okay. I sat on the floor next to him because it felt safer. Others joined. Some time later we heard shouting outside and everyone quickly moved to the floor in fear. There wasn’t much space to hide so everyone just got as low as they could and stayed away from the windows. People hid under chairs and the fear in the room was very tangible. Our professor did his best to look after everyone and remain calm but you could tell he was petrified. He has his own children and family to think about, as well as all of us. 

We were just on the floor for a while in silence. We knew the shooter was near us on campus. Sometimes I’d hear footsteps but I wouldn’t know who they belonged to. Every sound made my heart drop. My whole body was shaking.

Students were listening to live police reports so that we could know what was going on. Everyone was speculating and trying to understand if we were safe. We heard that it was a student shooting. We were sent his picture. We were told someone had been arrested. We were then told they had arrested the wrong person. We were told there were two shooters. We were told there was a car chase. We were told there were more shots near us. The whole time I never felt safe. Others seemed surprisingly calm. Most information we received was accurate but not all of it. There was only one shooter.

As time went on, other students chatted and sometimes laughed. They looked out the windows to see what was going on. Some had experienced this before. Some clearly felt safe. 

I remember at one point we heard running and noises in the building and everyone quickly moved to the floor again. I thought I heard someone trying to get into the classroom. Anytime we thought we might be safe, we were never sure.

We could see police outside walking around campus with big guns. We could hear helicopters. 

I texted the people I knew on campus to make sure they were okay but I didn’t want to tell my family what was happening. I knew they’d worry but I also didn’t know what was going to happen. Once I felt we were more safe I messaged them.

We were in the room for 3 hours. Time moved so quickly and so slowly at the same time.

After a while people needed the toilet. One by one, people would scuttle out of the classroom across to the loo. After enough people had done it, I felt it was safe to follow suit. I went to the loo. Leaving the classroom made my heart stop. I looked down the hall, which was eerily empty, and moved quickly into the bathroom. I was okay but I knew it could all change so quickly. All it would take was that one person to come down the hall.

Later we were told the suspect had been apprehended but there was confusion whether this was the first or second and how many shooters there actually were. At this point, we knew that whoever they suspected had been caught. We were emailed accordingly but told to remain sheltered for further instruction.

We heard noise. Banging on doors. My heart dropped. Everyone went silent. Then we heard a radio. Police. Before opening the door, they showed their badges through the small window. The professor unlocked the door and we were escorted out. Two men with huge rifles stood at the door as we left. Outside it was warm and humid. There were armed police everywhere milling around campus. Police cars with flashing lights swamped the streets. FBI, SWAT, cops. There were press interviewing students. We were directed where to go and told to stay away from central campus.

My dorm is on campus but was deemed safe. Walking back to my dorm an hour later I saw more detective cars and fully armed police men all down the street. My roommate was in our room the whole time.

The gun still hasn’t been found.

This was the most terrifying experience of my life. Lying on the floor listening to footsteps, looking at the door, waiting for someone with a gun to enter and point it at you. I felt supported and looked after by everyone, but at the same time there was a dizzying calm to many of the American students. They were used to this. They didn’t seem scared to me. I couldn’t understand it.

I’m 20 years old and this was an awful experience. But to think that young children in America endure this is unimaginable, and yet very real. 

I dont think I’ll ever see campus or America the same.

Wednesday 13th September

I will never ever understand how this could be okay. It isn’t.

1st grade children are taught how to shelter from shooters. Teachers become responsible for the lives of children against a gun. 

All states allow some form of concealed carry, the carrying of a concealed firearm in public. Many states allow some form of open carry, the carrying of an unconcealed firearm in public on one’s person or in a vehicle.

This is my second lockdown with a shooter on campus. I’ve been [in America] for less than a month. I am sat in the same classroom, in the same seat, with the same fear. To everyone around me, this reality is normal but it doesn’t mean that it is okay. Nothing about this is okay.

This week was our first proper week of class since the first shooting. It is almost the exact same time.

I receive two texts from my best friend: ‘Are u safe’, and ‘where are u’. I have no idea what she is talking about. Nobody else in the classroom seems to know what is going on yet. My best friend says there’s a lockdown and people are running from the pit (the centre of campus) and she can hear sirens. My professor continues teaching, completely unaware. I show the girl next to me, while another girl has been reading my messages and is scared. I look across and can see another girl messaging her friend. We both look at each other with fear. We tell the professor. The alert comes through moments later, informing us that there is an armed and dangerous person on campus.

Nobody can believe its happening again. But it is. In the same classroom, exactly 2 weeks and 2 days later. Now it’s procedure. Lock the doors, turn off the lights. We hear other classrooms moving furniture to block the doors; we don’t have any furniture to move. But now I get it. I don’t feel as scared as the first time. It’s strange how you feel calm in a time where you know you are not safe. You think you won’t be affected even though the reality of danger is so close. 

This time there wasn’t any shots. Somebody took a gun out on a worker at the bagel shop in the student union. An employee told them to put it away, so they put it back in their pocket and left, walking through campus with a gun in their pocket. It was that easy for them to brandish a weapon and leave again.

I had to message my family and friends again and tell them that I was okay.

We were given the all clear by the university an hour later and everyone began walking around like nothing had happened. I went to go see my best friend and my mind was numb again. I just felt like I was beginning to feel okay after the first shooting, and now today had reversed that and added another layer of complexity. 

Even though this time felt less dangerous, it was the second time. After the first time everybody said it would never happen again. It’s happened twice within 17 days. Try and make that okay.

I dont think anyone will be able to heal the trauma this campus has been through over the past few weeks.

America needs to change. 

File:Thoughts and Prayers Don’t Save Lives, student lie-in at the White House to protest gun laws (40369207261).jpg” by Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.