Monday, April 21, 2014

Triggered Memories & Associations - Purdue shootings

Content warnings for discussions of violence, shootings,  death, and suicide.  I write about my connections to two different shooting events at Purdue.  One happened around January of this year.  The other happened a long time ago.

This is a tough post to write.  Suffice it to say, I don't plan to get a third degree from Purdue at this time.  I enjoy learning, but as graduation approaches I am looking forward to having more time for my family and personal projects, including my garden and this blog.  I'm very aware that "fear of studying at Purdue again" is my own superstition talking.  Intellectually, I know that neither shooting had anything to do with me, or my status as an enrolled student.

I definitely recommend Purdue as a good school for students to attend.  I have many fond memories of the place.

Campus safety is something that all colleges, universities, and other institutions work hard to accomplish, and I believe that the Purdue University Police Department and the administration care about the students.

This is two for two now.  Two degrees, two shootings.  I know that I was away from campus both times.  That I have not had to evacuate, or be in lock-down, and I don't know the victims.

So this is all indirect trauma.  They were still closer to home than I like.  Therein lies the story.

Before I got my internships, years ago when we were undergrads, my then-fiance and I started working in the cafeteria of his dorm.  He continued to work there while I left town on cooperative education, my series of internships.

I had written about the spring semester on internship already.  One day in the fall semester, as I got back to my apartment from work, another Purdue co-op ran up to my car, "Kim, did you hear?  There was a shooting at your Wiley! They've evacuated the building!  Isn't that where Brian [my then-fiance] lives?"

I practically flew up the stairs to my apartment to get on the phone.  Of course my colleague was saying all the way that they had evacuated, I couldn't call his room.  This was before we had cell phones, so I called a mutual friend who lived in town, and his first response was "You didn't check your voicemail.  Yes, I heard from him, he's fine..."

Brian had finished his lunch shift and was sitting out in the lobby with a friend, playing cards, when one of the Resident Advisers (RA) came up to them and told them to get out.  So they left, walked around campus for a while, and when they went back they found out a little more about what had happened.

One of the students had brought a gun into the dorm, and shot and killed his RA.  Then he locked himself in his dorm-room and shot himself.

In the spring when I returned to campus, and returned to working in that cafeteria, it was a somber environment.  Everyone was affected by it, by the fact that it happened there.


Flash forward 18 years, to this January.  I'm a distance learning student now, I don't have to set foot on campus.  We have visited twice in recent years, once to speak with my committee, and once because a relative had business on campus.

My undergraduate major was Electrical Engineering, and I spent more than a little time in the EE basement, visiting with TAs, getting a snack from the HKN lounge, programming in a lab.

I signed up for the campus alerts partly to be aware of any class cancellations due to snow.  So when I got a text that started with "Shooting..." it took me a minute to register what it meant.

I was nowhere near campus, I live out of state.  There was no reason for me to go into lock-down.  For me, the impacts are mostly tertiary.  It triggers memories of the Wiley incident.  This time it happened in that EE basement that I used to know so well, and I feel sad for the place, the people.  We walked through the building last fall, showing our son the campus.

It seems strange/funny/ironic/low-probability that both locations have personal connections, and that both events occurred during times I was a student.

It's not right that these things happen.

For the ordinary citizen, there are no lessons here.  Campuses have taken measures to improve safety, installing peep-holes in the doors.  Schools practice lock-down drills, and what to do for an active shooter incident.  Be aware, know what your role in school or workplace planning is.

I am okay.  Stress-wise, for me, evacuating Houston for Hurricane Rita was worse, because we were in the car for 11 hours, inching our way to Dallas and places further north.  For the Wiley shooting, there was very little agonizing.  By the time I found out about it, within 5 minutes I learned that Brian was safe.

For this term, I've done what I needed to do to take care of myself, checked in with my teammates and classmates, and commiserated with my friends who still live in the Lafayette area.  I've read the obituary of the student we lost, talked about what's going on, and here I am writing about it.

For any surviving family members who may come across this post, I am deeply sorry for your losses.  I know that grief is a process that is never fully complete.  Anniversaries, news stories and blog posts like this, and similar events can re-trigger the memories even years later.  Much like what happened for me here.  I hope that I have not added to your pain.