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As students at Michigan State University, my friends and I would often end a night of adventures by sharing snacks and stories in the student union building. When I graduated in May 2022 with my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I knew I would visit campus in the future and reminisce on those memories.
But around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 13, I stood across the street from where my friends and I had shared those moments and saw a dead body, covered with a tarp, on the sidewalk. About two hours earlier, a gunman had opened fire in two buildings, Berkey Hall and the student union. Soon we would learn that he had killed three students and wounded five others before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Earlier that evening, I had been out to dinner with my parents in Wixom, Mich., when I received a text from the university’s police force. The message alerted the community that gunshots had been fired on campus and that people should shelter in place immediately — it told students and faculty to “Run, Hide, Fight.” I hadn’t unsubscribed from campus security messages after graduation because many people I know, including my younger sister, Amanda, still attend the university, and I like to stay informed.
I frantically sent messages to my sister and my friends on campus to try to confirm their safety. I learned the approximate location of the shooting from friends and checked the Find My app to learn where other friends were. They all seemed to be far from the location of the first reported gunshots, but nowhere was far enough.
My parents and I left the restaurant and turned on the police Scanner Radio app in the car to learn where the authorities were dispatching officers. We knew Amanda was in a club meeting in Bessey Hall, which is just a few minutes’ walk from Berkey Hall. I tried to explain to my parents that given her location, my sister was safe, even though I wasn’t entirely sure. We were able to reach her, before her phone lost power, and confirm that she was sheltering in a classroom.
The Mass Shooting at Michigan State University
A gunman opened fire in two buildings on Feb. 13, killing three students and injuring five others before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
I was comforting my mother when my phone buzzed. It was Sean Plambeck, an editor on the National desk at The New York Times, asking how soon I could get to campus and help cover the breaking news for The Times. He knew I was based in the area; in April 2022, I contributed freelance reporting from Grand Rapids, Mich., for a Times article on the killing of Patrick Lyoya. But I had never covered anything like this — I had hoped I would never have had to. Immediately, I began the hourlong drive to campus.
Once I arrived on campus, I asked my friends if they were with anyone who would be comfortable talking with me. I was able to speak by phone with two students during the lockdown. The gunman was still at large, and hundreds of police officers were combing the campus and the surrounding area.
Finally, after a three-hour manhunt, the gunman was found off campus around 11:30 p.m., and the lockdown ended. To find students to speak with in person, I headed to spots that I had frequented as a student reporter, such as the bus station and the Rock, a stone monument that serves as a billboard for student activities. Being a Spartan made this reporting emotionally strenuous, but it also helped me better connect and empathize with the students. During the interviews, I reflected on what I had learned about trauma-informed reporting — a technique that requires acknowledging that your source is still processing grief and considering how the interview process may affect the person. I used those skills to guide my conversations, always giving students an out if they became too overwhelmed.
As an undergraduate, I learned that journalists are expected to stay uninvolved in the lives of our sources — for our credibility and our mental health. Yet as I spoke with students the night of the shooting and in the days after, and heard how they used chairs and tables to barricade the doors of their classrooms, I couldn’t help but tear up.
I spoke with a student who had been in the Erickson Kiva, a classroom often referred to as a fishbowl because the walls are made up almost completely of windows, when the lockdown began. During the interview, I recalled sitting in the Erickson Kiva for my first class as a freshman and feeling nervous that students outside could see me.
I could vividly picture Berkey Hall’s Room 114, where in 2019 I took a data analytics class. The night of the shooting, the gunman entered the room, where students were learning about Cuban cultural identity, and opened fired, killing two of them.
As students shared their stories and their fear, my mind kept returning to my sister, who had been stuck for hours in a classroom with doors that didn’t lock, gripping a phone that had no battery life.
I’m a journalist and a Spartan, so I wasn’t just covering a shooting on a college campus — I was covering a tragedy at my home. Two nights after the shooting, the university held a vigil at the Rock, which had become a memorial for the three students who died, Arielle Diamond Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner. At the conclusion of the vigil, students joined in to sing “MSU Shadows,” our alma mater. I let my camera hang around my neck and put my arms around those near me.
When I first started in journalism, I dreamed of having a byline on the front page of The New York Times. I knew that with decades of hard work, I could get there one day.
I could have never imagined that less than a year into my full-time journalism career, that dream would come under the shadow of a devastating nightmare.