On ‘Spartan Stronger’ website, Michigan State students process their grief
- Late on Feb. 13, after the shooting stopped, MSU student Kirin Krafthefer posted a message on social media decrying gun violence
- Other students responded and wanted to know how they could share their voices
- So Krafthefer created a website for student and staff testimonials, with scores of people contributing
After a night spent huddled in a Michigan State University dorm room with five friends, silent, crying, listening to a police scanner and hoping the MSU gunman wouldn’t terrorize their dorm next, Kirin Krafthefer’s fear gave way to frustration.
So, around midnight on Monday night, after it was clear that the suspect was no longer a threat, she took out her phone and started typing.
“I need freedom,” Krafthefer wrote, in a message she later posted on social media, where it was widely shared.
“I need freedom to go to my dining hall without checking over my shoulder to see if there is a gunman. I need freedom to tell those close to me I love them without fearing it’ll be the last time I say it. I need freedom to get a violence-free education.”
- Opinion | MSU student: Want freedom? How about freedom from gun violence
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It felt cathartic. A classmate reached out for advice on how to do something similar. And Krafthefer, a 19-year-old psychology major, said she recognized an unmet need for MSU students and staff to share their experiences.
So, she created a website for others to do the same.
Five days later, scores of MSU students have taken to the website, Spartan Stronger, to document hours spent hiding in darkened rooms, desperately trying to locate missing friends and classmates, or composing poems of heartache from other countries.
The testimonials give voice to the students after a masked gunman opened fire in two campus buildings last week, killing three and injuring five.
The gunman, a 43-year-old Lansing man, killed sophomore Brian Fraser and junior Arielle Diamond Anderson, both from Grosse Pointe Public Schools, and junior Alexandria Verner of Clawson. He injured five more and then fled campus. Then he killed himself as police closed in.
In an interview with Bridge Michigan, Krafthefer said she sees the website as a healing space, where students and staff can connect over a tragedy that affected virtually everyone at the 50,000-student university.
One poster to the site, Margaret, was in the MSU Union meeting with a campus group, the University Activities Board, when they heard a noise overhead. Margaret’s first thought: “Who brought their kid in the union?”
Then came realization, and a scramble to close and lock doors, get down, turn off the lights.
“I thought we were all going to die,” Margaret wrote. Instead, police eventually banged on the door, ordered those gathered in the room to put their hands up and form a single file line, then escorted them out of the building where one of their classmates had just been killed.
“I had the privilege of going home to my parents at 2:30 that night,” Margaret wrote. “I cannot fathom how hard it must have been for those who could not, especially those families who had just heard the news that their child could never come back.”
The testimonials offer a glimpse into the mood at MSU, where students are attempting to pick up the pieces after the shooting left them unmoored, grieving, and unsure of what the future looks like.
They come from an international student, Felipe, who hails from a country without regular school shootings and finds U.S. gun culture “mind-boggling.”
“If I knew that I was going to go through all of this,” Felipe wrote, “I wouldn't have even thought of coming to the United States to study.”
And from Morgan, who was washing dishes in Owen Hall when a friend “called me to pick her up and bring towels.” Morgan found the friend hiding in a parking garage, covered in blood from tending to another student’s gunshot wound.
“We don’t know all of the details of her friend who was shot, other than he’s still alive and wouldn’t be if she didn’t stay and try and keep him from bleeding out,” the testimonial reads.
Other students shared stories of terrifying hours crouching behind barricaded doors, silent except for occasional whispered updates on the manhunt unfolding outside. Or widespread chaos as false reports from across campus left it unclear where the attacker was located, or whether he was acting alone.
Grief resonates through all of them.
“I am grateful I am alive,” wrote a poster named Lina, who was eating and studying in Akers Hall when the shooting began. “I am grateful I was not anywhere near the direct line of fire. And everytime I cry, I think about the people who were. I haven't reached out to a counselor for this reason. I'm broken, I'm in shock, I don't know what to do.”
Beyond providing a space for shared healing, Krafthefer told Bridge she hopes the website offers needed insight from those closest to the MSU shooting, as lawmakers, educators and voters consider how best to respond. Too often, she said, conversations about how to prevent school shootings fail to include the voices of those most impacted: the students themselves.
“This can’t happen again,” she said. “This needs to change. I don’t have the answers for how that happens, but I’m going to do anything that I can do, that feels right to do, to make something change.”
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