What it’s like when a shooter comes to your campus: Florida State University, November 20, 2014
By Catherine Frederick
I had the lights out and I was reading on my iPad when I heard one of my roommates say that there’d been a shooting at Strozier Library. My first reaction was a complete lack of reaction. I didn’t process. I wasn’t in shock. I didn’t freeze up. My mind just needed a few seconds to put definitions to the word that I’d just heard. I’d never realized that it took my mind that long to make connections. When it finally did, I rolled out of bed and tripped over a boot on the way to my door. They’d been in the way for a while, but I didn’t move them, because I always remembered that they were there. I’d never taken the time to imagine a scenario extreme enough that I’d forget they were there, and even if I had, I would have dismissed it. My second reaction (I cycled through several) was a sort incredulous amusement; as if to say ‘really, Florida?,’ which has become my go to response to all the crazy shit that seems to go on here. And a split second after that, for whatever reason, it became real. Suddenly, there was a person on my campus so angry that he took a gun to a library to kill people that he’d possibly never met. A deranged man with a gun came to my home and opened fire.
I was in no danger. I was safely ensconced in my dorm, and yet I trembled and sank down against a wall. I called my brother, and then I hung up quickly, because it occurred to me that it might ring and give away where he was if he was in the library, and I cursed myself and nearly cried for possibly getting my brother killed. I texted him instead. I called my mom. I called my dad. They both rang out. I called my mom again. And then one more time. I think. I might’ve called four or five times. I can’t be sure. And then I called my grandparents, just for good measure. Everyone I know seemed to be asleep all at the same moment. What were the odds? What were the chances? I started calling my friends. People who weren’t even students here. I just wanted to talk to somebody. I just wanted a voice on the other end of the line. But no one picked up.
I went into the contacts on my phone and started texting everyone I knew that went to FSU. When I’d done that, I scrolled through my entire list of Facebook friends and messaged every single person I knew who went to FSU, even if I hadn’t spoken to them in almost a year.
And all the while, my roommates are on twitter, monitoring what was happening in our library: our place of learning, our place of terror. We’d heard that the guy at the front desk had been shot. Was he alive? If he was, would he still be that way in the morning? Was it even a guy? Was it maybe a girl, with her hair in a ponytail and black framed glasses? Was she wearing a scarf, because it’s gotten so cold recently? Was he wearing converse? Or a superhero belt? Do they wear mismatched socks, like I do? Is he a nerd? Does she call her mother once a week, like my mom wishes I would? Is she still alive? Is he still breathing?
I’d contacted everyone, and people were getting back to me in a flood, which is good, but then the flood slowed down, and with nothing to do, numbness sank in. For about a minute, I sit on the floor, back to the wall, shuffling a deck of cards and taking comfort in a stuffed animal that I almost hadn’t brought to college for fear of looking childish. But it makes me think; is that really so bad, to be childish? Someone is killing people on campus, and that is an act of adults. Someone invented guns, and that is an act of adults. Someone is maybe bleeding out on the floor of the library, and god, let that never be the act of a child.
And so, then comes the anger. Because, when all is said and done, this will be insignificant. Two people dead? Tops? That’s nothing. (That’s everything.) As far as school shootings go, this one isn’t so bad. Those are the things that people will say. People will tell us we are lucky. People will forget that this happened, because not enough of us died.
We should not feel lucky, because the man who came to our home with a gun had bad aim. We should not feel lucky, because the man who came to our home with a gun didn’t kill as many of us as he probably would have liked. We shouldn’t even feel lucky if twenty years goes by without another school shooting. Because to feel lucky that it hasn’t happened, means that we anticipated that it would. It means we should have had a shooting in that time.
I don’t want to live in a country where we’re ‘lucky’ that only a few people died. I don’t want to live in a country where this is considered ‘not so bad’ as far as school shootings. I do not want to live in a country where we have standards by which we rank school shootings, because they’re just that common. Where are we going? And will this change anything at all?
Catherine Frederick, 19, studies psychology at Florida State University, where she enjoys reading, writing, and biting sarcasm.