Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Students describe hearing gunshots, running from MSU Union

February 15, 2023
Police officers make their way inside MSU Union as other officers watch on outside as during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023.
Police officers make their way inside MSU Union as other officers watch on outside as during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Jack Harrell was in the MSU Union cafeteria, like he is on most Monday nights, when he heard a loud “pop.” The room went quiet. Harrell wasn’t sure what the noise was. He thought that maybe something fell or that a pipe had bursted. 

A few seconds later, he heard the sound happen two more times, one immediately after the other. That’s when people started running, and Harrell ran with them. Harrell said people were sobbing, “freaking out,” and making phone calls while sprinting.  

“Obviously, in those situations, you sort of just fall in the crowd because you don't want to be the last one there,” Harrell said. “I didn't really believe, honestly, that it was a gun still, even while we were leaving, and I still wasn't really sure.” 

But when he got outside, he heard sirens on Grand River Avenue heading quickly toward Berkey Hall, the site of the first shooting, and that’s when he realized that what he feared was true.

What he’d heard were gunshots. 

“I was relatively calm to my memory, at least,” Harrell said. “I was more so trying to calm the people around me down. Obviously, the initial reaction is panic — we need to get out. And so reaction number one is run away as fast as you can. You really can't think of anything else besides running away. It's just human nature. All of your bodily processes go down. Adrenaline is at 100% and you're just sprinting.” 

Harrell and a group of people ran to Williams Hall. Once they got in the lobby, the group stopped running. But Harrell still didn’t feel safe, so he ran to his friend’s house nearby.

“One of my first thoughts was, ‘I don't want to be in public, because one shooter might mean many,’” Harrell said. 

At the same time, neuroscience sophomore Jenna Benbraham and three of her friends were coming to the Union for dinner. They had just come from the IM West gym and parked downtown East Lansing. As they approached the Union, they saw police cars and over 50 people running from the building. They asked one of the people running what had happened and they were told there were shots fired.

Benbraham and her friends ran to their car and drove to their dorms in South Neighborhood. 

 “We instantly just get back in the car and drive away,” Benbraham said. “During that moment, we didn't really know what was still happening. All we knew were shots were fired. We didn't really know what all was going on.” 

By the time she was in her dorm, she had received a message from the university telling students to run, hide and fight. Benbraham hid in her room and locked the door. 

Both Harrell and Benbraham spent the rest of the next four hours hiding, listening to the police scanner and texting friends and family. Benbraham said that the hundreds of social media posts she saw, many of which contained misinformation, created more fear. 

 “We were listening to the dispatch a lot, which was obviously probably a mistake because it was just fear mongering, and really, really scary because there were so many different calls coming in,” Harrell said. “When you have 10,000 terrified students, if you hear one little noise, you're going to think it's someone and then you're going to call 911. So it makes sense how there were so many calls, but it's just a shame because that information gets public when you're listening to the dispatch, and so it just becomes panic.”

Like many students that night, listening to the dispatches and communicating with people led Harrell and Benbraham to believe that there were up to four suspects.

Benbraham and her roommate sat on their floor in Wonders Hall going through various up-and-down emotions. At one point, they, along with other people in their building, heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot, causing them to hide under their beds. Benbraham still doesn’t know what caused the sound.

 “If we heard any noise, like if we heard a door open, any type of movement, we instantly just went silent and tried to be as invisible in our room as possible,” Benbraham said. “We were gonna barricade the door, but we didn't really have much to deal with. I just tried to move our fridge a little bit so that it would block it. Other than that, we just tried to be more aware of all of our surroundings, and as soon as we heard something, we just tried to prepare for whatever was to come.”

They stayed hidden until the secure-in-place lockdown was lifted.

Harrell said he could barely sleep that night. He said he will stay on campus for the rest of the week, staying close to his friends.

Benbraham, however, decided to leave campus when she woke up the next morning. She immediately packed her things and left campus to go home.

 “I knew campus wasn't the place that I wanted to be at that moment,” Benbraham said. “Even when I first woke up, it just felt weird being there. And honestly, I don't really see campus the same way as I did before… I knew it was just best for me to separate myself a little bit and spend some time at home, where I knew I could feel safe and secure.”

Classes are cancelled for the rest of the week, but Benbraham said she is nervous to come back when the break is over.

 “Everything is gonna feel different,” Benbraham said. “I don't know how to really continue to go about resuming my typical schedule. I feel like the circumstances aren't just gonna go back to normal, and it feels weird that we're just expected to go straight back to our typical schedule the next week. I'm not as worried about my physical safety as I am worried about other students and how (MSU is) gonna go about introducing us back to campus in a way that is not overwhelming.”


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