It was the day that ripped the veil from my eyes. It occurred on Oct. 1, 2015. I was at home in Enterprise and received a Facebook message from my friend, Tom. It read: “Check the news. Shooting at Umpqua Community College. 10 dead.” My heart sank.
Even though I always worried about a school shooting at UCC, I never really thought it was possible. Shootings were something that occurred at other schools. Now I will never doubt that it can happen anywhere.
I graduated from Umpqua Community College in 2014. It is a school that means everything to me. As someone who is learning disabled, I achieved something I never thought possible because of the people there: I got a degree.
Within a minute or two of Tom’s message, I received a text from my former academic adviser and mentor, Melinda Benton. She said there was an active shooter on campus, but she was safe.
It was a few minutes after noon when I got the messages. I immediately called the Dixie Montessori Academy, where my wife works, and asked the people in the office to relay the news (she also graduated from UCC). I turned on CNN and sat glued to the television. I gave my 4-year-old daughter my phone to watch a movie and made her go in the other room, hoping to shield her from the horror unfolding on the TV.
As the day wore on, all my friends from school and I received news about our other friends, teachers and mentors. Those who I was close to all survived, but they had come extremely close to losing their lives. The shooting occurred in room 15 in Snyder Hall — the building and room that I spent more time in than any other. None of my friends who survived the shooting made it without terrible scars. Many of them have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and may never get over it. Gregg Smith, a teacher, friend and mentor who once bought me shoes when I was wearing a duct-taped pair, lost his officemate and best friend, Larry Levine.
It was here, at Dixie State University, a few days into the semester, when I was sitting by the windows on the main floor in the Holland Centennial Commons. Suddenly a loud voice started shouting angrily. It was a young man’s voice from down near the financial aid office. Whoever he was, he was in a fit of rage, shouting and carrying on, and at one point I heard him hit a wall.
I immediately worried it was going to escalate, and by the looks of the other students around me, I could tell they were worried too. Everyone was looking around and sitting upright in their seats, tense, alert and on guard. I started to plan where I would run to, and how I would help get people out of the building.
Fortunately, the situation de-escalated, the young man’s voice subsided, and nothing bad happened. But I spent the next week automatically looking for exits wherever I was. I hated that I felt that way, but I doubt I will ever let my guard down again.
DSU does have an active shooter protocol in place, with training mandatory for staff. However, I believe training needs to be mandatory for students as well. At schools such as the Colorado School of Mines and Arkansas State, students are required to go through such training at the beginning of every fall semester. It is important to be aware that a shooting can happen here, despite the seeming safety of St. George and despite DSU being ranked as one of the safest campuses in the nation.
Guns are everywhere. Student training is not required. The message system has flaws (students cannot be contacted if they do not change their number in the computer database). There are chinks in the armor. And while mandatory training may be an inconvenience, it is far better to disrupt students, faculty and staff members’ day than to be unprepared in the event of an active shooter. Training everyone on campus for that possibility can be done. Yes, it may be an inconvenience, yes it may cost money, but if it could save even one life, it would be worth it. Make it a yearly training for all students each fall semester.
To be fair, DSU is doing an admirable job of training its staff. According to an online survey conducted shortly after the UCC shooting, numerous colleges and universities in the U.S. have failed to create adequate training procedures. DSU has done most everything right except mandatory student training.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to stop a determined gunman. The UCC shooter went directly to the room where it happened, opened fire, and was dead by a self-inflicted gunshot 20 minutes after the event began. Very little could have been done to prevent his attack.With UCC being a small school, there were no campus police in place to stop the shooter. DSU is fortunate to have the certified police officers assigned to protect us.
Schools can and have prevented larger-scale attacks. That is where the training comes into play. Attacks like those that occurred at Virginia Tech University and Columbine High School can be stopped by proper preparation. In multiple incidents, shooters have been stopped by quick-responding officers who were part of a comprehensive training plan.
That is what DSU needs to focus on. Close one more gap in the armor, and make our campus safer.