I woke up yesterday morning like I usually do. I rolled out of bed at 8:15, threw on some clothes, and started cooking breakfast. But then I got a text. I figured it was my friend from class reminding me to print out our paper that was due at 9:30. But I click “Read” and instead I see “UT ALERT: Armed suspect reported last seen at Perry Castaneda Library on 09/28/2010. Details to follow.”
My immediate thought was of my friend Louise who was spending the night in the PCL to study for a test. I texted her to see what was up. I kept getting ready because we’ve had armed suspects who had been fleeing a crime scene come through campus. I wasn’t too worried by it. Until the next text arrived, “UT ALERT: armed subject reported last seen at Perry Castaneda Library. SHELTER IN PLACE. STAY WHERE YOU ARE AT. MORE INFORMATION TO FOLLOW”
This is probably going to sound terrible, but it was 9am and I had class at 9:30 where a major paper was due. I checked the emergency page on the University of Texas’ website and it said the university was open, so I headed out the door to the bus stop. I figured the cops had the situation under control and that campus was OK as long as I didn’t go near the library, which I wasn’t planning on. But when I got to the bus stop, there was a gathering of people. Someone was telling everyone that the bus system to campus was shut down and that the university was closed.
I went back to my apartment, into my room and turned on the TV. I got on Facebook and Twitter to see what was going on. The news interrupted whatever show was on to start the coverage on campus. I was so lost. All I knew was that there was a guy with a gun seen at my school. I decided that being safe was more important than a paper. I crawled back into bed and watched the news. As the information was coming in, so were the calls and texts from all of my friends and family. Among those, the text saying classes were canceled and that UT was on lockdown.
So far, here is what we do know: Colton Tooley, a 19 year old mathematics major at UT brought an AK-47 to campus. He fired a few rounds outside then went into the Library where he took the stairs to the 6th floor. He then locked himself into a room where he took his own life.
What we don’t know, however, is why he did this. To me, the hardest thing to grasp is how someone so young, practically a kid, goes from being just your everyday student to being an armed gunman scaring thousands of people. One of my friends has known this guy since they went to middle school, then high school, and now college together. It’s truly heartbreaking to try to think of what happened to this guy to make him go and do something like this. My heart goes out to his friends and family for their loss.
There is, however, a good side that I’ve been focusing on. First of all, there wasn’t a single injury aside from the gunman who took his own life. I am so grateful that all of my friends and myself are OK. I also can’t believe how many people called, texted, and checked in on Facebook with me to be sure I was OK. A guy who I just started dating (who lives in a different city and attends another school) found out because his mom saw on the news and wanted to check on me. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you are loved and cared for, or even just thought about in a time of crisis.
Today, I go back to school. I am happy to say that I feel perfectly safe because of how awesome UT police are. They were on things from the start making sure that students, faculty, and staff were safe and sound. Not many people know this, but the main reason for SWAT teams in the U.S. is because of the 1966 shootings at UT where Charles Whitman went to the tower and killed sixteen people while injuring almost three dozen with a sniper rifle. Fortunately, today’s events were nowhere near as disastrous, but Austin’s SWAT team was on the scene within minutes with an armored car, searching buildings and securing the area.
Today, I woke up very proud to be a Longhorn.