The following editorial was submitted to Substream by Kelsey Shawgo, a student at The Ohio State University.
On Tuesday night, a solemnly lit St. John Arena at the Ohio State University glowed in solidarity for students and community members affected by the incident that occurred on campus early Monday morning. The gathering included notable Ohio State figures Brutus Buckeye, President Drake, CellOhio, and TBDBITL. The arena, typically housing events of celebration or sportsmanship, was instead reflective. Officers in uniform were stationed at every door. Groups of students found seats and watched quietly. The jumbotron displayed the hashtag #BuckeyeStrong. We were all, it seemed, still processing.
On Monday morning at approximately 10 a.m., a car flew over the curb and into a group of students in front of Watts Hall. The driver, later identified as Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, got out and began attacking nearby students with a large knife. In total, 11 people were sent to the hospital. Artan, a third-year logistics management major, was fatally shot by responding Police Officer Alan Horujko. The rest—the motives, the circumstances, the metal state of the attacker—remain unknown. During Tuesday’s event, Director of Public Safety Dr. Monica Moll noted that “living in a free society can sometimes feel chaotic, even unsafe at times,” but assured the community members in attendance that everything was being done to protect student’s safety here on campus. She thanked emergency management personnel, many of whom were off-duty yet responded as soon as they heard the news. President Drake commended the invaluable service of first responders and the on-site first aid administered by students for the injured. President Drake assured those in attendance that all the hospitalized students were well—that their hospital rooms were filled with family, friends, and smiles. But this did little to ease the minds of many students who remain confused and unsure of how to process this act of unimaginable violence in their own backyard.
Like many, I woke up on Monday to the buzzing of the Buckeye Alert messages on my phone, roommates pounding on my door to confirm that I was in fact safe at home. But for students on campus, the events played out much differently. Jack Chai, a fourth-year Economics major, was on his way to class on north campus when the first alerts went out. “When I was about to cross the Oval, I saw four or so people running onto the Oval from the north side,” Chai recalls. “I was really confused why anyone would be running so fast on Monday morning with backpacks. Originally I thought they were messing around and just chasing each other or something, but it turns out they heard a gunshot and started running.”
Of the Buckeye Alert system, Chai says, “It told me to ‘Run Hide Fight.’ I felt that the messages were too vague. After the initial text saying there was an incident at Watts Hall, I had no idea what was going on or where the possible shooter was.” Chai continued on to his class on north campus, and was then locked down in Dreese Lab for the next two hours.
Caleb Caldwell, fourth-year Mechanical Engineering major, had a similar experience in the Chemical Engineering building, CBEC, near Watts Hall where the incident occurred. “I first noticed something was wrong as the teacher was in the process of dismissing us, when my friend showed me the first Buckeye Alert that went out,” Caldwell says. The campus was then put on lock-down, and Caldwell’s classmates went to the lobby to see what was going on. “When we got the alerts and looked outside, we could see a body lying on the ground. We got the alerts so early they hadn’t had time to cover the body with a blanket, so at first we thought he was just hurt. But it soon became clear that he was dead. If anything, it might have been worse once they did cover the body, because the white sheet started to stain with blood. We didn’t know who it was at the time, and that was probably the scariest part—putting two and two together that there was a potential shooter on campus, and that there was a dead body right outside the building.”
After about two hours of lock-down, an EMT came to the classroom to ask for volunteers to help sweep the building for victims. Caldwell left the classroom to help, and eventually left the scene. The strangest part of Caldwell’s experience though, he says, was coming across an instructional safety video later in the day. “This was probably the most disturbing and upsetting thing for me,” Caldwell says. “OSU has a ‘How to Survive an Active Shooter’ video that further explains what ‘Run Hide Fight’ means. The video opens with the ‘shooter’ walking towards CBEC [the same building Caldwell was locked down in Monday morning], and the morbid irony of that scene is that the camera filming the actor is placed almost exactly where the real attacker was killed outside the building. The video goes on to show the actor attacking people in the building, stalking the hallways, and looking into classrooms, specifically the classroom I was in that morning. This fake video played out all the worst possible scenarios, which at the time were the only things we could think about while on lock-down watching everything happening outside.”
Caldwell, like others present that day, is having difficulty understanding how to move forward after this tragedy. “I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about all of this. You can’t really prepare yourself for that. I walk up and down 19th every day to get to my classes, and I walk past the spot [where] the body was, and the last time I looked there were still blood stains on the concrete.”
Read more: Ohio State students react to campus attack
Derrick Dent, a soon-to-be graduate of OSU’s Computer Science program, had much to say about the Buckeye Alert system’s vagueness and inaccuracies, a sentiment shared by many students. The Buckeye Alerts warned of an active shooter, but students were later informed that the only weapons used—other than by responding officers—were the car and large knife. “That would have been good to know, that he didn’t actually have a gun,” Dent asserts. “If I think someone has gun and I act a certain way and they have a knife instead, that could put me in more danger than help. When it comes to alerting people about things like that, it has to be accurate. There should be less information given, but only information that’s certain.” Dent suggested that the alerts could have used the phrase “armed threat” instead of “active shooter” before the information was confirmed. Caldwell said the alerts “lead to more speculation, and even more heightened tension,” rather than being helpful or comforting, and Chai agreed that “If I only relied on the alerts, I would have been a lot more scared.” Ultimately, it appears students would prefer slower, more accurate updates—the opposite of Campus Safety’s current system.
As a campus community, Monday’s events served as a divisive topic for conversation. Many have been unsettled since the information that Artan was a Muslim, Somali immigrant was released. “I think it’s going to do two things,” says Dent. “I think in the short term, it’s going to bring the campus together. However, I feel like in the long term this is going to be a big discussion about the political atmosphere. Things like, ironically, gun control, even though no gun was involved; things like refugees and Muslims. It’s going to cause more discussion to be had—it’s going to cause more opinions to be expressed, which is unfortunately going to cause more tension. I hope that the discussions that arise from this are positive, insightful, fair, and cordial.”
This hope for solidarity was echoed during Tuesday’s event in President Drake’s words: “I encourage everyone to move forward in the spirit of unity.” Chai affirms, “I really hope that this incident brings the Buckeye community together rather than tear it apart. What happened was tragic and using this incident to divide us is not what any community needs.” At the close of the event, students joined together arm in arm as the band played the Ohio State alma mater, “Carmen Ohio.” As students illuminated their cell phones in the darkened arena, I was reminded of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote Caleb Caldwell wanted to share with the community when I spoke with him: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
If you’ve been affected by Monday’s events, there are resources available. Reach out.