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Michigan State students from Oxford hope to ‘survive long enough to graduate’

flowers on michigan state's campus
MSU students always on high-alert from active shooter drills now must deal with the real thing. (Bridge file photo)
  • Some Michigan State University students survived another mass shooting at Oxford High School
  • They describe the tough road ahead in the weeks following a shooting
  • Students scan classrooms for escape routes

Matt Riddle’s daughter Emma survived the mass shooting at Oxford High School just 14 months ago. Monday night, she survived another at Michigan State University.

“She says it’s easier, because this is her second time,” said Matt Riddle. “That broke my heart.”

No one should have to live through the trauma of a mass shooting once, Riddle said, let alone twice before they are old enough to have a beer at Landshark Bar and Grill near the MSU campus. 

But “that’s the reality today,” he said. “It feels unstoppable.”


There is no consensus on what defines a mass shooting. But by one definition, there have been 752 mass shootings in the U.S. between the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting at Oxford High School and Monday’s shooting at MSU, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as involving four or more victims including the perpetrator.

There are several current Michigan State students who are from Oxford or were in the school at the time a 15-year-old student wounded seven and killed four, and at least one student who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012.

Emma Riddle declined to speak to a reporter, but posted on Twitter Monday night, while still under lockdown in her dorm room, about the frustration of having gone through mass shootings twice.

“14 months ago I had to evacuate from Oxford High School when a fifteen year old opened fire and killed four of my classmates and injured seven more. Tonight, I am sitting under my desk at Michigan State University, once again texting everyone “I love you” When will this end?”

Matt Riddle picked up his daughter and her roommate from their dorm at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and took them home. They won’t return until Sunday.

“Because she’s been through it, she knows what she’ll face in the next few months,” Matt Riddle said, citing the burnout survivors feel, and the need to take time to care for yourself.

“It saddens me as a father to say she’s different. She’s more aware of things around her than a (teenager) should have to be. And there’s an anger there. You want them to have fun longer and not worry about the world.”

But that’s not the world current college students have grown up in, said Gabriel Ahlborn, a junior from Oxford. Ahlborn was a first-year student at MSU when the mass shooting occurred in her hometown.

“It’s awful to hear my housemate’s reactions (Monday night), and know exactly how they’re feeling because I’ve been there,” she said. “That pit in your stomach -- it’s not going to go away for a couple weeks.”

It doesn’t matter if students were close to the shooting or miles away, or even if they’re students at a different campus, everyone Ahlborn’s age is already traumatized by a world where they’re reminded constantly that they could be shot at any moment, she said.

“Growing up in this day and age, it’s something everyone is traumatized about. It’s the drills when you’re 7 and you’re locked in a bathroom, and you don’t really understand why. You joke about it, but when the drum line starts to play at a game, your first reaction is to duck. That’s what you’re trained to do.

“It’s like growing up with normalized terrorism,” Ahlborn said. “I don’t think any other generation in this country has experienced this, and they don’t get that constant fear and awareness of your surroundings.”

Ahlborn said every student she knows enters a new classroom for the first time and looks for escape routes. She gets anxious when she has classes in MSU’s Natural Resources Building, because the classrooms have no windows that can be used for escape.

Ahlborn doesn’t hold out hope for change.

“After Marjory Stoneman Douglas (when 17 died in a shooting at a Florida high school five years ago), we all went out and protested and nothing happened. After Oxford, we had vigils and nothing changed.

“You just distract yourself long enough to graduate and maybe it (mass shootings) won’t follow us to offices.  I don’t know. It’s kind of like, survive long enough to graduate, and then you’ll be fine.”

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