For the students and staff of Seattle Pacific University, a balmy afternoon before the start of finals week veered suddenly and sharply off course yesterday afternoon, into a tense campus lockdown. A man with a shotgun had walked into Otto Miller Hall and opened fire, before being confronted and pinned to the ground by students. A 20 year old man has been declared dead at Harborview Medical Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Leila Grey. A 20 year old woman remains in critical condition.
Police, including SWAT teams, swarmed the area. So did reporters. As students trickled out from the building and beyond the yellow police tape, people embraced. They made phone calls to family members, their voices cracking with emotion. And they heaved sighs of relief that more people weren't hurt. For most of them, their friends and peers were okay. They had survived.
Gloris Jones, a 19-year-old engineering sophomore, hugged her mom tightly while reporters crowded around her with microphones and cameras, yards away from yellow tape cordoning off Otto Miller Hall. "We were walking out as it happened," Jones explained, her voice breaking. My friend called me and said, 'Glo, Are you in Otto Miller? Get out right now."
Then she got a text from a friend. "He sent one text that said, 'I got shot.' I sent him five or six text messages and I’ve heard nothing back. It’s a mess." On the edge of tears, she paused, to breathe.
"I understand that there’s a great deal of turbulence right now around gun control," said Jones' mother, arms wrapped around her daughter. "But like any other parent, would you not be concerned about the ability... to purchase a weapon at random? Where are the controls? You just want them to be safe."
A bearded engineering student described administering first aid—after tearing the first aid kid off the wall—to a man who'd run in with blood on his neck. He thought it was a goose attack at first. A graduating senior told of a panicked woman running into her room, near the shooting. "We need to lock down!" she said.
A math professor in a green polo shirt named John Hossler was on the second floor of the building when gunshots rang out. He told one of his students who was grading papers to hide under the desk. She did that, for between ten and fifteen minutes, until police arrived and led her outside.
That student was Tasha Harris. "It hasn't sunk in yet," she told me. On her way out, she saw a man in a bloodied shirt. Harris told me worriedly that she didn't know what had happened to her professor. Then, several minutes later, Hossler emerged from beyond the police cordon. They hugged and told each other how glad they were that they were both okay. Hossler said he's been trying to find out if all the students he knows, besides Tasha, emerged from today's violence unscathed. So far, he said, everyone is accounted for and alright.
I asked him what he thinks about gun violence. Hossler said guns aren't the issue and that someone could have hurt as many people with their minivan. "It's more about the individual."
We don't know much yet about the identity of the suspect apprehended by police.
We do know, however, at least according to Seattle police captain Chris Fowler, that a student working as a building monitor—reportedly a senior who is a member of the campus ROTC—played a huge role in preventing more people from being shot. He confronted the assailant. Then more students joined in and pinned the suspect down until police arrived and arrested him. I asked a shell-shocked SPU President Dan Martin about that, and he took a moment to collect himself as his eyes watered. "They acted without regard for their own safety for the sake of others." He said that's what SPU students are taught: when others are in need, to act.