This Is What You Do: A Shooting On Campus

May 6, 2009, 8:46 pm

Over two years ago, on April 17, 2009, after the Virginia Tech shootings, I wrote this post. Towards the end I wrote:

So far, two faculty members have been identified as among the dead, one of whom may have tried to block the classroom door to give his students time to escape through a second story window. Another faculty member, interviewed yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air, described barricading himself in his office as he heard the gunfire below, listening to students and faculty being shot and not knowing where his two children (enrolled at Tech) were at that precise moment. And I know that I am thinking about this because the human mind grasps precisely what it can handle and no more but: am I the only college teacher wondering whether I would have the courage to try to save student lives in such a pointlessly horrible situation, knowing that mine might be taken in the process? Or the flip side: have you imagined the agony of hearing or watching students being murdered while knowing that you were powerless to do anything to help them?

Well, one of the things I know now is that mostly it isn’t that dramatic. What happened at around 1:30 today is that my administrative assistant came to my office and said calmly, “There has been a shooting on campus. A woman has been hit and the shooter got away.” The shooter is, we think, her ex-boyfriend (it turned out the suspect is an older man from her hometown), and it happened in the middle of the campus bookstore. No one around me panicked, and I thought calmly, “OK, I am responsible for these people. What do I need to do?” We locked the doors and windows and went upstairs; two of us called the people who were not at the office and told them not to come in. Then we waited up on the second floor.

A student came by for office hours. We invited him in, I talked to him for a bit, and sent him home. He had no idea anything was happening.

We read our email alerts, deleted messages from our cell phones, and waited some more.

We watched as Public Safety cleared Foss Hill, where the students were holding their annual Spring Fling. The celebration — a festival of music and partying (in 1972, the Grateful Dead came!) which marks the end of classes and the beginning of reading period — had just begun when the shooting occurred. Coincidence?

Then we waited.

There was a police car outside our building, blocking off one of the streets, with lights swirling: the officer stood next to it with his hand on his gun.

And we waited.

After an hour, we all agreed to go home, and to leave in a group. Those of us old enough to have taken feminist self-defense classes in the 1970s rehearsed the classic moves to defeat a patriarchal aggressor: Jam the heel of your hand upward into the nose! Preferably hard enough to drive the cartilidge into the brain! Sharply slam your knee into his patriarchal nuts!

This all assumes that you even get to Feminist Move #1 and he doesn’t just shoot you dead on the spot.

But as I say, it really isn’t that dramatic. We saw each other safely to our cars, which were in a parking lot behind the DKE house, where the brothers had assembled some appropriate beverages, music, and were playing with the many wiffle ball sets they pass down from generation to generation. My friend Dr. Victorian noted brightly that had we known there were so many strapping young men available to protect us, we might have left earlier.

I came home and found out that the student has died; as I understand it, she was shot five times. There may be a second student who was hit.

Then I cried.


You can read everything I know about it here and here and here. When I first wrote this post, I had heard rumors about who had been murdered, but was not sure. Since then it has been confirmed: the murdered student’s name is Johanna Justin-Jinich, and I have inserted her picture above. As of 8:30 P.M., while the police claim to know who her killer is, they have not released his name.

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