It was 3:55 pm, just a normal Sunday afternoon. I was sitting on one of the couches outside of my dorm, Parkside, chatting with a friend. However, our conversation was interrupted by muted yells coming from somewhere nearby. I promptly stood up and looked if I could see what was happening.
I spotted the source of the noise- four female employees emerging from the nearby dining hall. Something was going on inside the dining hall. Maybe a fight? was my first thought. I sat back down and just shrugged it off. But something didn't feel right. One of the employees sprinted past me to the street. Even though I only saw her for a split second, I was able to clearly see a look of horror and panic in her eyes. That's strange...
An ambulance shortly arrived. Ok- a typical college Sunday afternoon. But then things started getting really weird. Two policemen arrived casually bearing…. rifles. They started yelling at all of the students, telling us to evacuate the area, immediately.
"Have you not heard?" one of them shouted, "leave the premises, now!" Haven't heard what? While I didn't know what was going on, all I could sense was this horrible feeling in my gut. There was no denying the implied potential threat inside the dining hall: an active shooter.
I felt the world suddenly shrink around me. I wanted to run, but I couldn't. This wasn't the first time I instinctively froze in a "fight, flight, or freeze" situation. I fought the urge to do nothing and followed the quieter voice inside my legs telling me to get the hell out of there.
I ran far away to be safe but stayed close enough so that I still had a clear view of the dining hall. I needed to know what was going to happen next. That's just how I am- I never fully run away from danger, but rather stand along the threshold between security and threat.
More police cars arrived, bringing more armed men and women to the scene, each with their own rifle. One policeman standing right next to me was bearing a large hunting rifle. Nothing felt real to me, not the threat, the guns, nada.
I paced back and forth on the sidewalk, hyperventilating. I didn't know where it was "safe" to go. If there is an active shooter on campus, how could I possibly know where they were going to next? No place seemed any safer than the latter.
I saw more ambulances appear in the distance, their lights blaring a bold, bright color of red. More students gathered near my 'safety threshold', to whom I asked if anyone knew what the hell was happening.
"I don't know," one of them said, "I was just going into the dining hall and they suddenly turned me around, telling me to leave."
"A policeman asked me if I had heard any gunshots. I didn't, but…" another student said, clearly shaken up.
"Not sure, but I heard that someone tripped and fell in the dining hall," another person said, catching me off guard.
"Sorry, what?" I asked. If someone fell in the dining hall, then why were there 10+ police cars, the SWAT team, a helicopter, two ambulances, and a firetruck here?
My confusion was interrupted by yet another rumor: "Oh, apparently someone fell in the dining hall, split their head open, and because there was so much blood, someone thought they got shot and reported it."
Soon after I heard this, the police began telling us that it was safe to enter the premises again. I was still very confused.
What I found out was that one of the workers at the dining hall passed out. A coworker found him unconscious and freaked out.
The first mistake was that the workers started yelling for help. Yelling is never a good first instinct.
What this did was start a commotion in a very closed environment, filled with high-anxiety first-year college students. In fear for their own lives from a phantom danger, students started running out of the dining hall, including through the emergency exits. This set off a myriad of alarms, which only instilled more panic and yelling. Someone must have, during this, called 911, reporting how they thought there was a shooter on campus.
What this all came to be was a terribly large, dysfunctional game of telephone.
Before the situation dissipated completely, no one knew what was happening: not the students, not the policemen, nor the school. (I later found out that the SWAT and some policemen had even gone to the wrong initial location due to even more miscommunication)
Nevertheless, I was quite shaken up; there was a moment where I truly felt my life was in danger. It was a feeling I had never felt before- a sensation so surreal and adrenaline-induced that I hope to never feel again.
After this incident, I took away three crucial thoughts.
One: how sad it is that we live in a society where we often correlate chaos and screaming with "gunman."
Two: the importance of communication. Imagine there was a shooter and the SWAT team arrived at the wrong location as they did today.
And three, how precious life is. Remember to always hang up with an "I love you" to those close to you, or just show some sense of appreciation in some way. It's rare to know when our final day will come, and because of this, we should treat every day as if it were our last.