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US: Confusion & chaos after mass shooting

February 14, 2023
Photo: Al Goldis/AP

(CNN) — Claire Papoulias was sitting in a history class on Cuba at Michigan State University Monday night when she said a gunman entered the classroom and opened fire.

“The teacher was presenting a lesson and all of sudden I heard gunshots directly behind me,” Papoulias told CNN Tuesday. “That’s when the shooter opened the back classroom door and started firing at my classmates in the back, wounding them. I smelled and saw the gunpowder.”

“I thought I was going to die,” the 19-year-old sophomore said.

The shooter fired three or four times before exiting the classroom, leaving the door wide open, she said. Someone closed the door and the students began barricading themselves inside. Others tried to help the wounded before someone broke open a window and the class fled. Papoulias ran straight to her dorm.

“My feet hit the ground running. I forgot everything I owned because that didn’t matter,” she said. “I was focused on making it out alive. I jumped out the window and I ran as fast as I could.”

The calm of an ordinary class had been shattered by a gunman who police later said killed three students and wounded five others at two locations on the sprawling campus in East Lansing, Michigan.

The shooter — identified as 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae, who was not affiliated with the university — died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said after a manhunt that for several hours left the campus in a state of fear and uncertainty. Authorities have not identified a possible motive.

Around 8:30 p.m., the university sent mass texts and emails to students alerting them to a shooting on campus and telling them to shelter in place. For about four hours after that warning, flustered students didn’t know what was happening.

Some hunkered down in their rooms and others ran for safety — a scenario repeated time and again as gun violence unfolds in communities across the US nearly every day.

Dominik Molotky was also sitting in the class where he said the gunman opened fire, he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He was in a seat closest to the door and immediately ran to the other side of the room when he heard the sound of a gunshot outside, he said.

“About two seconds later, (a gunman) came in our class and let off three to four more rounds. I was ducking and covering and same with the rest of the students,” Molotky said.

The calm of an ordinary class had been shattered by a gunman who police later said killed three students and wounded five others at two locations on the sprawling campus.

After Molotky’s classroom fell silent for a brief time, students scrambled to escape, he told ABC. “We broke open the window and climbed out of there and I booked it back to my apartment.”

He thought one person in the room may have been shot.

The tragedy in Michigan unfolded on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, and was at least the 67th mass shooting in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The archive, like CNN, defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people are injured or killed not including the shooter.

The shooting happened in two buildings on the more than 5,000-acre campus, per authorities.

Gunfire was initially reported at 8:18 p.m. in Berkey Hall, an academic building on the northern end of campus, where authorities found several gunshot victims, including two who died, police said.

Then came a report of a shooting in the student union building, about a five-minute walk from the first shooting scene. The third person who died was found there, police said.

Chris Trush was watching TV in his apartment when he saw police cars and ambulances rush toward campus.

A short time later he watched from his window as a surge of panicked students poured out of the student union building, a popular gathering place on campus, Trush said.

“That’s when I knew something’s really up,” he told CNN.

Meantime, Graham Diedrich was working in the library when he noticed people worriedly looking at their phones before hearing sirens.

“We got the email from the university to run, hide and fight if we had to,” Diedrich said. “And that’s when we really decided to go into lockdown. So, myself and a few others that were with me, we took heavy furniture from around the library and just essentially barricaded ourselves into a study room to make sure we were safe.”

“In the moment last night, I wasn’t really thinking about the severity of what was going on. It was really more just survival and making sure that those around me were safe as well,” he said.

Desperate for information on the violence erupting on his campus, freshman Gabe Treutel told CNN he and his roommates started listening to scanners online and barricaded their door to protect themselves. After his dorm was deemed safe by authorities, he saw students rush out the entrance.

The uncertainty and fear eventually subsided when police lifted a shelter-in-place order early Tuesday morning.

The response to the shooting was a “monumental task,” according to the university’s Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police Marlon Lynch.

“Part of the process of the response that we had is that we were able to divide and organize to be methodical in the search process,” Lynch said.

University officials spoke about the importance of allowing students and staff to grieve and canceled campus activities — including classes and athletic events — for two days.

“This is a day of shock and heartbreak here across our campus. In our region. It’s something that’s quite unimaginable. … We are devastated at the loss of life,” MSU interim President Teresa Woodruff said during an overnight news conference.

“We cannot allow this to … happen again,” Woodruff said.

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