EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State University students were greeted with signs of love and support as they returned with mixed emotions to campus Monday for class, a week after a shooting that killed three students and injured five others.
Sophomore Enzo Sugameli said he wanted to go to class in person because he wanted to be with his community.
“The idea that we’re strong enough to get through it together, we’re all Spartans, it’s really nice,” he said. “It’s like a really strong sense of community that the situation needs.”
He was eating in the MSU Union when shots were fired there last week.
“The shooter came in through the back door of the kitchen. And then he fired one shot, which was a loud pop, and I thought that was just someone just dropped something really loud or a pipe burst,” Sugameli said. “But then there were two other ones quick in succession. And then immediately everybody was screaming and running.”
He said being with others now was helping him avoid getting caught up in his own fear and get through what happened.
Other students expressed lingering shock and anxiousness.
“It’s hard to process everything. I think a lot of us are still in shock, so I haven’t fully processed what I feel right now,” sophomore Khadeeja Khazi told News 8. “I’m not sure if they (administrators) have done enough. A lot of us feel, especially me, but I feel like we’re back to too soon. It’s too soon to be back on campus. It’s too soon to have classes go normally because things aren’t normal yet.”
An intern with MSU Alliance for African Partnership said he, too, was struggling to process what happened but also looking at ways to move forward.
“I have my own mental battles there but today I felt like after the emotions were dying down I felt like a bit of peace for some reason and a bit of connection,” Denzel Mswela said. “Sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes there are good things that happen that come from it and one thing that came for me was the connection to this place that I didn’t think I’d get so connected to.”
The shooting on Feb. 13 killed Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner. The five injured students remained in a Lansing hospital Monday morning: two were still in critical condition, two were in serious but stable condition (one of them was upgraded from critical condition the previous day) and one was in fair condition.
COMMUNITY OFFERS SUPPORT
On Monday, a large makeshift memorial of candles and piles of flowers was laid out in front of Berkey Hall, the academic building where the first shots were fired. A wreath adorned with “MSU” was in front of the doors, and roses were threaded through the handles. “Remember them: Alex, Arielle, Brian,” was written in chalk on a wall in front of the building.
Around campus, signs and sidewalk chalk messages offered support to students, saying things like, “MSU is strong,” “Spartan nation stands together,” and “Your faculty loves you.” Alumni and other community members brought their dogs to comfort students.
“MSU has a special place in our hearts,” Julie Chamberlain, whose daughter is a student, said. “We have dogs that love people. We wanted to spread some love and just feel the sense of community and let these kids know that we love them a lot.”
McKenzie Snow, whose husband is a student at MSU, stood on a street corner on campus all morning holding a “Spartan Strong” sign. She said she wanted to be “a bright light” for the students.
“I love giving hugs and I just wanted to share the love,” Snow said. I just wanted to take the opportunity to show people that I love them and I’m here for them.”
Holland resident Jonathan Brownson said he knew he had to campus. He connected with a Lansing church group and helped hand out snacks to students.
“Felt like this was where I was supposed to be,” Brownson said. “Just a way to extend some love to the students here.”
At Campbell’s Market Basket, on East Grand River Avenue across from Berkey Hall, staff handed out cookies and coffee to customers all day Monday. About 30 of the sweets are sold on any given day, but more than 600 cookies and 600 coffees were given at the cheap price of simply paying a visit.
Co-owner Perry Kaguni said his business partner, Ken Campbell, came up with the idea, which created a needed sense of community in a place where people are used to being happy.
“There’s no way to know what to do. You shouldn’t have to figure out what to do in situations like this, but you know you’ve got to do something, and we have the ability to do it,” Kaguni explained.
Counselor Jess Stevens with Rooted Counseling said gestures like this and Spartan Sunday can help heal with a healthy return to routine.
“Routine can be very helpful, especially when you’re healing from trauma,” Stevens said. “Keep focusing on basic needs, like, ‘Have I ate today? Have I taken care of myself the way I want to?’ Then we can add in the larger things. If you’re not ready to come back to campus yet, well can we at least get you to town? From there, can we get you to your class? And if not, what can we do to accommodate that?”
“We just wanted to do something cool, make people feel good, bring people into a positive, safe environment, feel safe, feel like maybe the healing has begun or at least will,” Kaguni said. “It’s the little things in life that add up to be a lot sometimes.”
MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services continue to be offered on campus. Rooted is also offering telehealth on top of their short-term and long-term services.
Students like senior Olivia Elgazar are continuing to process the tragedy.
“The MSU community and everyone here, time froze for us. But the world keeps going,” Elgazar said.
All of her civil engineering classes are hybrid, but she said everyone is choosing to go virtually. She hasn’t been able to do any homework over the last week.
“It’s hard to focus on stuff,” she said. “Nothing seems important anymore sometimes. It’s a hard balancing act and we’re all trying our best for sure.”
She said many students are scared to come back and that everyone grieves differently.
“It just feels weird, for me at least, to put a timeline on it,” Elgazar said. “To be like, ‘Two weeks is enough, this is enough.’ Because everyone is processing at different times.”
CREDIT OPTIONS FOR STUDENTS
At a news conference Sunday, administrators stressed that a return to class was not a return to normal. They said they were working to be as flexible as possible but also that research shows coming back together can help the community heal.
“One of the things that’s important for us at this point in time is to recognize that coming back together is something that will help us. We’re a community that was shaped around the interest of discovery and learning, and it is as a community that we will heal,” Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Jeitschko said.
Students will have the option for a credit/no credit grade reporting option for all 100 to 400-level undergraduate courses for the rest of the semester. That decision can be made throughout the entire semester. Students are encouraged to reach out to their academic advisers to help with class accommodations. Students have called for hybrid or online options for the remainder of the semester. Jeitschko said requests for virtual options will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Berkey Hall and the Union will be closed for the rest of the semester. Some 300 classes have been moved elsewhere on campus.
MSU MEDICAL STUDENTS RETURN TO CLASS, CLINICS
Medical students returned to their clinics and classes on Monday at MSU’s College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids after a week off following the mass shooting in East Lansing.
“I have just a little bit of anxiety, we have a little memorial out,” said first-year medical student Larissa Dean. “It’s kind of tough coming back the first day. I think the school did a good job, we took an hour and just had breakfast.”
Dean’s teacher hosted a group talk session prior to the start of their classes so that any and all could grieve, ask questions and process the events of late.
“Fear, grief, numb, hopeful, overwhelmed, tired, angry,” she said. “A lot of emotions.”
While second-year Rima Patel said last week’s shooting validated the need for more physicians to be part of the policy-making process.
“The recent events have made a lot more students aware of the need for us to be a lot more proactive, specifically when it comes to laws and policies surrounding gun control,” Patel said. “Not just in the state, but in the country at large.”
Patel said there are many groups across MSU’s campuses that advocate both locally and in D.C. for new gun laws or amendments.
“I think it’s important for people to know that this was preventable,” she said. “If we had stricter gun control in this country, we’d have the opportunity to have less incidents like the one that occurred last week. So we should all be doing our part to make sure we can keep our students safe.”
Information regarding counseling services and support for students, staff, faculty and community members can be found on MSU’s website.
—News 8’s Brittany Flowers and Byron Tollefson contributed to this report.