Wednesday, September 29

Campus Lockdown

I have never been so grateful for text messages.

I was getting ready to meet with a friend at 9:00 yesterday morning when I checked my phone and saw that I had two text messages. The first was a 911 UT Alert to say that an armed subject had been spotted outside of the Perry-Castaneda Library, please stay where you are. The second was from friend and fellow UT student Christa, making sure I had seen the alert. I sent a quick text to thank her for letting me know, but didn't really give the text from UT a second thought.

After our meeting, I checked my phone again as I was leaving. Three new text messages, from two friends and one of my sisters, asking if I was okay.
Why wouldn't I be okay? I explained to the friend I was with about the situation and she, too, asked if I was okay. My immediate response was, "Of course I'm okay. It's not a big deal."

As I was driving to campus for my 11:00 am class, I received another text message:
"UT Alert: UT is locked down. Classes are canceled. If you are off campus, stay away. If you are on campus, lock your doors & shelter in place."

And an email from Gretchen, my professor/advisor: "
For your safety, DO NOT come to our 11:00 class... let's be safe. I do not want you anywhere near PCL this morning." (Our class meets in the Sanchez Building, which is right next to the library.)

I slowly started putting the pieces together and had two very strong reactions.

First, a guy with a gun was on the UT campus. A guy. WITH A GUN. On the UT campus. The fact that my initial response to the alert had been one of indifference frightened me. How sad that guns on college campuses has become such a normal occurrence that I didn't even think to have an emotional response. But seriously, a guy WITH A GUN. Target practice with a .45 or 9mm at the gun range is one thing, but bringing a weapon to school is something else entirely. I started thinking of the "armed subject." I started thinking of the students on campus. I started thinking that I often study at the PCL and walk by it at least twice a week. On my short drive home, tears welled in my eyes as the morning events finally started to sink in.

Second, a guy with a gun was on the UT campus. A guy. With a gun. ON THE UT CAMPUS. Campus shootings happen in Colorado and Virginia. Sure, Texas had one, but that was over 40 years. This is
my UT campus. This isn't supposed to happen on my UT campus. I go to class on campus. I know people on campus. These people are my professors, my advisors, my peers, my friends. This isn't supposed to happen here. Fear, sadness and anger swirled together in my mind, which just left me confused and exhausted.

I arrived at home and immediately flipped on the news. An hour of sitting in front of the television and several emails from UT President Bill Powers later, the events of the previous four hours all started to make sense. A man was seen walking down 21st Street carrying an AK-47. Campus police were notified, the man let off several rounds (into the air?) and was chased into the PCL. The suspect then committed suicide on the 6th Floor of the library. Campus was locked down, classes were canceled. By some miracle, no one else was injured. I'm sure the man (later identified as sophomore Colton Tooley, 19) had several opportunities to claim victims, but he didn't. A small blessing in an otherwise tragic day.

The response time by UTPD, APD, SWAT and other law enforcement agencies was incredible. The use of campus-wide sirens, emails and text messages alerted the student and faculty population in real time. Technology, it seems, saved the day.

So yesterday was a sad day. For UT, for Tooley's family, for Austin, for everybody. You just never really believe that something like this will happen so close to home. Going back to campus for class tomorrow will be weird. And hard. But that's what we do. We move on. We don't forget what happened, but we try to deal with it as best we can and hope that we never have to experience it again.

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