I was on the University of Texas campus during the ‘school shooting’ that took place September 28, 2010.
I am in a class called ‘20th Century Short Story.’ At ~8:40AM, I receive a text message from the university safety alert service that reads, “armed subject reported last seen at PERRY CASTANEDA LIBRARY SHELTER IN PLACE STAY WHERE YOU ARE AT MORE INFORMATION TO FOLLOW.” At ~8:45AM, I receive a text message that reads, “armed subject reported last seen at PERRY CASTANEDA LIBRARY details to follow.” I did not check my cell phone at this time, but other students in my class had. A girl raises her phone up and says, “Professor, I just got a text that says that there is a gunman on campus. Should we lock the door?” A girl nods. The professor says, “Oh my,” but he sounds ironic. We are talking about the Flannery O’Connor story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” in which a man named ‘The Misfit’ ‘summarily executes’ a family. After closing the door, another classmate raises her hand and tries to continue the discussion of the short story. She says, “I don’t buy that The Misfit is supposed to be a prophet.” The nodding girl looks scared. Her whole face is frowning and she looks around the class of faces arranged in a circle, looking for someone who feels the same way she does. I look at her. I see her fear. She is texting her mom. Her mom is telling her things – things we later find out to be wrong. Her mom tells her “7 dead.” The girl says, “There’s 7 dead!” Class ends. The girl who tried to continue the discussion of the short story says, “I’m leaving. The worst that could happen is they tell me to go back.” I think, “That’s not the worst that could happen.” Another student says, “I don’t want to get a ticket” and leaves. The professor then says, “I hope you don’t mind if I leave” and leaves.
A student uses the school computer to project a local news station onto the blackboard. The newswoman says, “Suspect wearing a ski mask and a suit detained in the Perry Castaneda Library. Suspect carried an AK-47, fired rounds and then committed suicide on the sixth floor of the library.” A student next to me Googles “AK-47.” She Googles “UT school shooting.” She Googles “Mark Zuckerberg.” My mom calls me and I say, “I am okay.” I say, “I love you.” We hear a helicopter outside. The newswoman says, “Suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.” The newswoman talks to a student on the phone. The student says, “Second gunman.” The newswoman says, “Second gunman?” The newswoman says, “This is the first we are hearing of a second gunman.”
I receive a text from a friend in the same building who says that SWAT agents are raiding the building next to our building. I say, “SWAT are entering Calhoun.” People move to the back of the classroom, away from the door, and sit on the floor. People try to lock the door but turn the lock the wrong way. Someone tries to tie a rope around the door handle. People move desks in front of the door. We wait and watch the news. No one talks. The windows are open and it is cold. There are emergency sirens going off outside, followed by instructions. The instructions are impossible to hear. We hear banging in the hallway. Two SWAT agents enter the room. They wear camouflage jumpsuits with gloves and helmets and glasses. They are both carrying automatic weapons. When they rush in, one student runs out. The SWAT team yells, “Police! Police!” The student comes back inside. Students start crying. One SWAT agent says, “Do you know how to lock this door?” We say, “No.” Then he locks the door and leaves. In a minute, he comes back and tells us to join a class across the hall. We walk down the hall and sit in a classroom with another group of students and their professor. We do not watch the news. We sit quietly and otherwise make idle conversation. After a while, I get a text from my friend who was in the same building. She says that her class is able to leave. I ask to use the bathroom and leave out the side exit of the building. I walk across the empty campus and under some ‘caution tape.’ I pass by ~10 news vans and a crowd of ~40 people set up at the police perimeter. I meet up with my friend and walk to her house.
On Facebook and in real life, people in Austin joked about the shooting. “I’m making a movie on campus. Shooting will begin at about 9.” “It’s flu season, but I hear they’re giving out shots on campus.” I didn’t make jokes.