From cookies to cash, support floods into MSU after deadly shooting spree
- Volunteers pitched in from the early minutes of Monday night’s shooting at MSU.
- Signs of caring continue to grow, with cash and food donations growing.
- ‘Spartan Sunday,’ launched Wednesday to welcome students back, is attracting participants from other states, organizers said, as word spreads among people eager to help.
Sirens of police cars racing east on I-96 screamed near Donna Ackley’s Lansing-area home on Monday as she listened to the police scanner and prayed.
More than 40 years have passed since Ackely’s student days at Michigan State University, but she told Bridge Michigan she could feel what it must have been like on campus as a 911 dispatcher directed scores of officers around a terror-filled East Lansing after a gunman killed three students and injured five more.
Ackley woke up on Tuesday still worried about the students. She posted an offer on Facebook to drive anyone on campus anywhere they needed to go.
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With no takers, she kept thinking of the students and what they might need. And praying for them.
Then, Ackley said, she realized she could reach out directly to someone: On Thursday she decided to mail a card to Shaw Hall, addressed simply to the same room that was Ackley’s on-campus home 43 years ago.
“I care about you,” she said she’ll write to a group of young women she’s never met. “And I’m sorry.”
In the wake of the mass shooting at MSU, much remains to be done. Administrators are coming to grips with a campus that will never be the same. Students and staff grieve, along with the community. Three families are planning funerals, while five more look for signs of healing. And officials try to understand — if anyone ever can — what prompted the attack by a 43-year-old Lansing man with no known ties to MSU.
Amid that, the gestures of support for MSU, where the trauma permeates the university, are growing. Money, time, smiles, pizza and decorated cookies, all coming from people who want East Lansing to know it’s not alone in its grief.
Response to the tragedy started in the minutes after news of the gunshots were broadcast to the public by MSU’s public safety department, prompting off-duty police raced to campus to volunteer to help find the gunman. Stores and restaurants locked their doors, staff joining customers in the lockdown. At Crunchy’s, for a moment on Monday, that suddenly meant the kitchen when it sounded like the shooter could be nearby.
Moments of kindness and gestures of support escalated in East Lansing and beyond as awareness of the horror spread on Tuesday. Within hours, the rock in Ann Arbor on the edge of the campus of Big Ten rival University of Michigan had been painted green and white, something unimaginable on a football Saturday yet poignant this week. Vigils, words of comfort and donation drives — including over $400,000 from GoFundMe.com donations for the victims and their families — all were offered by people pausing to acknowledge the pain felt for MSU and its community.
They continue today, “from people from around the country,” Kim Johnson, East Lansing police chief, told Bridge. “The amount of emails, thank you letters, phone calls, and in-person well wishes have been tremendous.”
Some gestures, like those from Ackley, are simply made by individuals who can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I felt like I had to do something,” she said.
Mike Krueger, owner of Crunchy’s and The Peanut Barrel, said all are helping the community recover, particularly as the response keeps growing.
“It won’t take away the pain,” Krueger added. “But it’s a chance at knowing that people are here to support them.”
The city responds
The gestures are made across the city, some obvious — like the free coffee offered to weary first responders or pizza handed over to crowds of journalists from across the country — while others are quiet moments of kindness that offer a glimpse of hope for healing even as they connect the grieving.
At the Target store on Grand River, where staff and customers huddled for hours Monday night as police hunted the gunman, customers on Wednesday were greeted with a table of free flowers, along with a note that read simply, “for our Spartan family.”
There are several of these tables set up inside the target on campus. A lot of students were taking flowers pic.twitter.com/nfr5RXzW0H— Grant Hermes (@GrantHermes) February 15, 2023
Those flowers may have joined piles of bouquets at makeshift memorials, like outside the student union or at the foot of Sparty, the iconic Spartan statue on campus, or at The Rock, where students and others gathered early Wednesday evening for a vigil.
Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, trying to save those students shot on campus, were among the recipients of dozens of Valentine’s Day cookies and brownies delivered by the MSU Bakers.
About 500 orders for Valentine’s Day couldn’t be delivered to campus offices and dorm rooms on the day after the shooting, said Cheryl Berry, associate director of marketing and communications for culinary services.
Staff at the bakery said the support they received from the community concerned about them after the shooting was “heartwarming and overwhelming,” Berry said.
So when they decided to give away the treats to Sparrow staff and others, the gesture helped them, too.
“It was so meaningful to us, to be able to do something small, to just say thank you,” Berry said.
Some of the gratitude comes from parents of MSU students who are flooding their Facebook groups with appreciation for staff, who have been addressing their questions and concerns even as they, too, grapple with their fear and grief.
“To the cafeteria worker that unlocked and held the back door open so that all kids could exit the Union, you are a HERO,” wrote one parent. “... I will always be grateful for you.”
Few also knew of the now-heralded dispatcher Aimee Barajas before Monday night, when she calmly connected the waves of 911 calls to police during the crisis.
Barajas and her 911 dispatch colleagues were among the many law enforcement, students, staff and medical personnel honored by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
"Now, more than ever, it is important to recognize the heroism and resolve of those who lead us through tragedy," said House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, who read from a memorial resolution adopted by the lower chamber.
“It should not take a tragedy for us to recognize the best of us,” Tate said, “but we would do a dishonor to their courage if we did not take this opportunity to commend their valiant efforts and express our gratitude on behalf of Michiganders everywhere.”
Celeste Bott, former editor in chief of the State News student newspaper, and friend Anya Rath Voruganti decided to collect for the student journalists who reported the violent ordeal with, Bott said, bravery.
“It really took off,” Bott said. By Tuesday night, she and Roth had sent the staff about $2,000 from their network of family and friends, many of whom also worked at the State News. The journalists can use the money as they need, Bott said, like to refuel with meals and treats.
“(We) can empathize with what this might be like to set aside your own trauma and essentially delay processing your own feelings,” Bott said, so that the story could be told. “It takes a lot of guts.”
Every day, said Steven Jappinga, senior vice president of the Lansing Regional Chamber, businesses are contacting him with offers to help. Hotels are offering deals, including one in Okemos reportedly offering international students free rooms, and overflowing food deliveries prompted city police to get a refrigerated truck.
The effort, he added, “showcases how important communities are, and people's connections.”
Teresa Woodruff, interim president of MSU, said the 500,000-member alumni network wants to get involved, too, with the requests prompting a new Spartans Strong donation channel set up by the university. Details on it, and collections to date, were not available Thursday.
“They are generously donating their time and items that can be helpful to the community,” Woodruff said during a press conference on Thursday morning. “We are all very grateful for that outpouring of love and support.”
For the students
Students coming back to campus this weekend as classes re-start on Monday will be met with positive posters, volunteers cleaning trash and brush, and tables filled with donated items for them — including some with a focus on self-care, like coloring books —along the Red Cedar Trail from the Sparty statue to the Rock.
Emily Damman, a speech pathology graduate student from Marysville, and her friends started “Spartan Sunday” with the simple idea on Wednesday of getting a few donations.
One day later, the event has mushroomed, thanks to social media. The group now has thousands of dollars, MSU administration support, and participants expected to come from several states.
“We know how much we love the campus and how many positive memories we have,” Dammon said. “So we just wanted to make coming back to their MSU home a little easier.”
Reaching students who are struggling, including those who are fearful of returning to East Lansing, is the goal for many volunteers. Counseling at MSU is being done with scores of volunteers, including some therapy dogs. In addition, the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing is setting up a time for students to visit this weekend for free, in what’s described as a “safe space.”
Sophomore Maddie Martinez, who spent terrifying hours barricaded with three suitemates and a friend Monday night in North Case Hall, said she knows many people will struggle with this for a long time. Any genuine gesture — even a simple “I”m sorry” — helps right now.
So do the gestures of support that are gaining momentum, she said.
“It feels like a small step to say your community has your back,” Martinez said.
Jonathan Oosting contributed.
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