Monday, September 25, 2023

Students on CATA buses during shooting left displaced and scared

February 27, 2023
<p>MSU students crowd onto a bus on Feb. 15, 2022. CATA informed students that buses would now come around every 30 minutes instead of 10 due to labor shortages. </p>

MSU students crowd onto a bus on Feb. 15, 2022. CATA informed students that buses would now come around every 30 minutes instead of 10 due to labor shortages.

Photo by Madison Norfleet | The State News

Even at 8:30 p.m., minutes after the first shots were heard in Berkey Hall, students were getting on and off the CATA buses, heading back to their dorms or their homes after classes and exams, ready to unwind after a long Monday.

However, when the shelter-in-place was put into action, many students found themselves stranded across a campus that was under attack

CATA does not require operators to have students exit vehicles during a shelter-in-place situation. While CATA buses were sent off to other locations, students on the go when the shooting occurred saw the buses as their lifeline and shelter. Unfortunately, that was taken away from them.

Psychology sophomore Sydney Schultz was coming home on a 31-line bus from a chemistry exam with Doordash waiting at Emmons Hall for her.

Someone next to Schultz at a bus stop informed her there was an active shooter on campus. Schultz did not realize the severity of the situation. This was the third time in less than a year that she had received an email about shots being fired, the first being on Sept. 11, 2022, and the second being on Oct. 30, 2022, so she did not think much about it. Schultz said all she wanted to do was go to her dorm, so she got on the bus at 8:33 p.m.

As the bus turned off Farm Lane to take Grand River Avenue, just feet away from Berkey, the bus took a right instead of a left. Schultz knew that something was wrong as the bus started to take the side streets behind Grand River Avenue, trying to get as far away from campus as possible.

After taking a detour around Albert Avenue and turning back to Grand River at Charles Street, the bus returned to the main strip. Schultz said this made her and the other students agitated because they wanted to know where they were going and when they would be able to return home. Schultz that they were stuck at the light directly across from the Union for 10 minutes during the active scene.

“The police response there was insane,” Schultz said. “We obviously wanted to look and see what was going on because, at that point, we knew nothing.”

Schultz said the next minutes have stuck with her since the shooting as she and everyone on the bus watched first responders deal with the situation outside the union. Schultz said the mood went from being on edge to being terrified and that many of the students started crying.

“People were starting to call their families, I mean, we didn't know where the shooter was," Schultz said. "There is a very high possibility he walked out of the Union and passed our bus at that point. It's so hard to come to terms with being so close and seeing that. Our bus driver, I feel like at that point, didn't know until we came to that stoplight.”

At that point, Schultz said the bus driver ran the red light to get out of the scene, being stopped by the police multiple times before they were able to evacuate the area. As the bus continued to drive, Schultz got message after message from her family members about bomb threats being called to the Brody neighborhood. While bomb threats were reported on the scanner, no bomb threat was ever reported by MSU Police.

When the bus pulled up to the Rather Hall bus stop, students yelled to not open the bus doors, to let them stay on the bus, to let them stay until they felt some sense of safety. To Schultz’s horror, the bus driver told everyone on the bus, about 50 students to Schultz’s recollection, to get off the bus. 

“I turned around to everyone around me like ‘Are we seriously getting off right now?’” Schultz said. 

She said some of the students that got off the bus didn’t live in the Brody neighborhood and were stranded, left hoping that someone else was able to let them. Schultz also said she also was hearing from family members texting her that police scanners were calling for the shooter in the woods behind Schultz’s dorm.

Schultz said a group of students on the bus said they lived in Rather Hall, so she ran into the dorm building with them as fast as she could, slamming the door behind them. The lobby of Rather Hall is mostly glass window frames, so Schultz said she and a group of girls ran into a single-stall bathroom where they waited for four hours until the shelter-in-place was lifted, after 12:30 a.m.

Kinesiology freshman Matthew Whitefoot was also on a 31-route bus, heading back to his dorm in Bryan Hall from an exam at the Veterinary Center. He said he was unaware of what was happening when the bus driver stopped at the CATA station and told all the students that the bus was “out of service.” Whitefoot was told to wait for another bus to come. No other 31-route buses ever came.

All Whitefoot could do was wonder where the shooter was while he checked his phone with worried texts from his parents.

“I feel like if somebody was there, they could have seen all of us in the bus station… I didn't feel safe,” Whitefoot said. “I was nervous.”

Whitefoot said everyone in the CATA station was on edge and panicking, saying they needed to be moved, having cars come and pick the students up. He said the numbers dwindled as time went on, making him more anxious to be with his friends and be off-campus.

After 20 minutes of waiting inside the bus station with 30 other students, one of the members of his fraternity drove to the station and picked up Whitefoot and took him off campus

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When The State News reached out to CATA for a statement on these events, a four-bullet-point list was sent back explaining that the buses were dispatched to other areas to aid in evacuating the students to buildings off campus. There was no explanation as to why students would be dropped off at areas outside of the dorms.

CATA Director of marketing and public information Lolo Robinson said in an email to The State News that CATA buses were dispatched to "support the evacuation of MSU students and staff from the crime scene to designated secure locations on campus," but declined to explain why students were dropped off at areas outside dorms.

“CATA continues to work closely and collaboratively with local, state and federal law enforcement to facilitate their investigation of this heartbreaking tragedy,” Robinson said in an email. 

The union representing CATA bus drivers, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1039 President Steve Soliz declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation

Editor's note: A previous version of this article asserted that it is CATA's policy to have students exit buses during a shelter-in-place situation. CATA does not require this and the article has been updated to reflect this.


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