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Michigan State shooting: Night of terror, morning of eerie calm for students

two people by car
Sophomore Nia Reynolds, right, barricaded in her room during the chaos Monday night. She’s overwhelmed but wants action. “They say ‘prayers for MSU’ but they need change at this point.”

LANSING — Jordan Gurka says it was four hours of blind terror she’d prepared for since she was a child.

Since she was young, the 19-year-old Michigan State University sophomore had participated in active shooter drills. 

Now, it was real, as she and Bridget Henderson and Anglina Pello, both 19, holed up in her off-campus apartment on Monday night and into Tuesday morning after a gunman opened fire across the street.


Her 10th floor apartment is across the street from the MSU Union, where a gunman shot students. On social media and a police scanner, they could hear him move from building to building.

Gurkha and her friends knew what to do: They turned off the lights, locked the door and stayed fixed to their phones, which offered their only updates of the violent crime and police response they could hear but not see.

“Honestly, it was more disbelief than anything,” Gurka, a graphic design major, told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday morning. “I didn’t think this was going to happen to us until it did, and then it just didn’t feel real.”

When it was over, three would be dead and five others injured. The gunman killed himself after being confronted by police.

By Tuesday morning, the ordeal still seemed surreal, Gurka added.

“I had nightmares all night long,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep very well. It was just a lot to process. I thought for sure we were going to die.”

Less than a day after a 43-year-old gunman terrorized Michigan State’s campus, their peers were reeling from the fallout and making plans to seek the comfort of home.

Madeline Dempsey, a junior supply chain student, and her sister Molly Dempsey, a business student, said they still have a lot of questions. 

Before heading home to Adrian Tuesday morning, Madeline said she remembers “texts flooding in” Monday night that made them realize “this is real.” 

“I think it was just a lot of unknown,” she told Bridge. She spent the night on FaceTime with her dad in Adrian and another sister in Chicago. At first, she couldn’t get in touch with her sister Molly.

Molly was at Akers Hall when the campus alerts went out. 

“Everyone just can’t wrap their heads (around what) happened, we’re still in shock,” she said.

In the first hours of the lockdown, there were false reports that the shooter had gone to IM East gym. That’s where freshman Dev Dhingani said he ended up being barricaded. 

family posing for photo
Dev Dhingani, second from left, was holed up at a recreation facility on campus when the shooting occurred. He spent hours staying safe in a nearby apartment.

Dhingani said he kept hearing reports that the shooter was getting closer to the gym and he said he heard “a big bang” and ran out of the gym and to an apartment where he stayed for a couple hours. 

“I just ran until I saw someone and then he told me that I could stay with his friend who lived in an apartment,” Dhingani recalled Tuesday morning. 

His mother, Smita Dhingani, and her friend, Rajni Mishra, drove to East Lansing from Troy to pick up their sons. 

“It was terrifying,” Mishra said. “We were anxious, couldn’t sleep. Pretty much after it was over we couldn’t sleep properly.”

Outside of a residence hall on Tuesday morning, Tyler Schmidtke stood with a bag ready to head back to his home in southwest Michigan.

"It's horrific,” the freshman creative writing major said. “I think that there's an eeriness to this campus. I've never heard it so quiet and so dead. I just can't believe this series of events unfolded. I'm just shocked, (at a) loss for words to say the least."

Gurka estimates that she sent or received more than 100 text messages over the roughly four-hour span the shooter was at large. The students were sending updates to their parents and making sure other friends were safe.

 People they hadn’t talked to since high school were checking to see if they were OK, said Henderson, an animal science major.

They listened to the police scanner for updates. They read updates and rumors — many of which turned out to be false — on Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to send anonymous messages to anyone within a five-mile radius.

And throughout the night, they received alerts from MSU urging them to continue sheltering in place, and to "run, hide or fight" if warranted, said Henderson, who lives in a campus dorm but was visiting Gurka and stayed the night.

"I'm still kind of in shock," Henderson said Tuesday morning. "There was an assault earlier this week in front of the dorms, and now this. I don't know if I'll ever go back to walking outside by myself when it's even close to night."

From bustling campus to ghost town

Jacob Bennett, a freshman from Grand Rapids walked out of Bryan dormitory Tuesday morning. He had slippers on his feet and a laundry basket full of clothes in his arms. His thought: “Just get out of here.”

Twelve hours earlier, he was hiding in his dorm room with his roommate, a dresser barricading the door. They sat in the dark, in a corner of the room, listening to a police scanner to reports of gunshots being fired around the MSU campus. Now, he was heading home with his father.

“The first thing you think as a parent is jumping in the car and picking up my kid,” said father Joel Bennett.

With classes canceled until at least next Monday, students fled campus Tuesday. Through the morning, cars and trucks streamed into dormitory parking lots. Parents stood outside the locked doors of dorms waiting for their children. There were hugs and tears and more than a few “I love you’s.”

Rebekah Weiskoph, a freshman from Northville, hugged friends goodbye who were leaving campus. Her parents were picking her up in a few hours. “It’s like a ghost town here,” she said. “I’m surprised I don’t see tumbleweeds going by.”

Weiskoph said she looked forward to leaving campus after the shooting, for “the feeling of safety and comfort,” a feeling she said she no longer has at college.

Change needed

Nia Reynolds, a sophomore engineering student from Detroit, was unlocking her door after taking a chemistry exam when she got the campus email.

Her initial thought: “We’re going into lockdown, it’s happening.” 

Reynolds said she got in her room with a friend, and they turned off the lights and got behind a locked door, “trying to keep out of sight.”

On Tuesday, she had packed her bags for a few days at home to process what happened. 

“I’m just feeling overwhelmed because the same thing keeps happening,” she said as she was heading home for a few days. “They say ‘prayers for MSU’ but they need change at this point.” 

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