I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A First-Hand Account of Terror on Campus--A Pensacola Connection to the Story....

With what appears to be increasing regularity—it is all too often we hear about suicidal maniacs taking innocent lives.  Many on the left want to use these tragedies to take guns from law-abiding citizens.  But the larger issue is lunatics with weapons—whether it is crazy people using their cars as a weapon, or the lunatic that stabbed a random stranger to death in a Maine grocery store last week.  It is a mental health problem—not a gun problem!  But after the tragedy in Virginia on Wednesday with two reporters being murdered on live TV---everyone is talking about these insane people killing innocent victims.

With the Virginia killings fresh on everyone’s mind--yesterday it was a lunatic on a college campus in Starkville, Mississippi that garnered attention.  A friend of mine has two children attending school there, and one of her children was in the hall where the intruder, a gunman on campus, was arrested.  She wrote the account below about her firsthand terror on campus yesterday at Mississippi State—and how law-enforcement agencies intervened at just the right time……

August 27, 2015
It Was Never Going to Happen to Me
                You watch on the news of school shootings and think about how sad you are for that town and those families, but it would probably never be something that happens to you. But they resonate with you. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia, etc. Everyone can remember something about that event whether by word of mouth or by watching it unfold live on a local TV channel. So then even yesterday, August 26, when the reporter and cameraman were killed because of a mentally unstable man, it resonated with me. I’m going into a communication field in a few years. It hit hard. But surely it was never going to happen to me.
                My high school wasn’t in the best area of Pensacola but I did learn a lot more than school while I was there. I learned that economic status only mattered on a tax form, not in friendships. I learned to be comfortable but aware of my surroundings. And then one day in the spring, I learned something about life…to cherish it. Because that thing that wasn’t going to happen to me, seemed like it might happen. A person on a car chase ditches his car outside the school while we were doing our routine fire drill and files in with us into the building carrying a gun. We had no idea. It’s a school of 1500 students. The police came in and knew, as they had been chasing him. We were on lock down for about two hours but it seemed like all day. So although no shots were fired and no one was injured, the fear was real. The threat was real. We could’ve been the next big news story.
                Fast forward three years and it’s a normal Thursday in Starkville, Mississippi. Normal in the routine, except the weather was a little cooler. I had Public Relations writing at 8am and went across campus to the drill field in McCool for Spanish 2 at 10am. We aren’t supposed to have our phones out during class. But in a class of about 30 young adults, it’s inevitable someone would have their phone nearby. I’ve never been so thankful someone disobeyed the teacher’s rule. At 10:16 a campus wide emergency alert, a “Maroon Alert” was sent to phones everywhere. A girl in my class who had her phone out exclaimed some explicit phrase I won’t restate. The teacher of course was appauled at the outburst. The student read aloud, “Starkville Campus. Active shooter report at Carpenter Hall. Seek safety immediately.” Suddenly the lecture on informal commands in the usted and ustedes form was irrelevant. I pulled out my phone already trembling to see for myself. Immediately screenshot it and sent it in my family group message, especially to make sure my little brother, a freshman on campus, was out of harm’s way. He was on his way back to his dorm at the time which was far from the incident. But I was right across the way from Carpenter.  This was not supposed to happen to me.
                10:19 alert: “Starkville Campus. Active shooter last seen in vicinity of Lee Hall. Seek safety immediately.” The trembling turns into tears as that is the building in between his original 

location, Carpenter, and where I was in McCool. My teacher, bless her, was so calm and smart 
throughout the situation. Pulling students from the hallways to join our class huddle in the corner away from all windows and doors. Lights off. My friend, Rachel, volunteered to pray for all of us during our time of fear.
                Rumors circulated about how many shooters there actually were and that people were shot and so on. It was hard to ignore. Every rumor I was hearing I sent to my parents as a sense of comfort and for them to stay updated. I can’t even imagine their emotions during this. Having two children at a school with a shooter and being 300 miles away from helping them. My normal Thursday routine is pretty lack-luster. This was FAR from lack-luster. We could have sworn we heard a shot fire.
                10:26 alert: “Starkville Campus. Suspected shooter in custody. Continue to seek safety immediately.”  A little at ease, but still concerned since rumors had said there were multiple shooters out there, we all took a deep breathe. Still shaking in terror. The photo leaked of the “active shooter” being taken into custody on Twitter which is how we saw it. Little did we know, we could’ve looked out the window to see it all happen live. He was in our building. He was apprehended in our building. That was hard to swallow at first, then we realized he was in fact in custody so there’s not a reason to worry about him any longer.
                Around 10:40 or so, the SWAT team with rifles in hand bursts through the door. We had been told by our teacher to hold everything that was ours in our laps while they did their search for anything that might not belong to us. (AKA: something that belongs to the suspected shooter). After they searched, one would stay behind to guard the door while the rest moved on to the next room. After they had swept the whole building, they began to release us floor by floor with police escort.
                As soon as I get outside, I look around the drill field to people sprinting to their cars, dorms, offices, etc. I was too shaken to run and from what I understood, everything was all clear. That’s what the next Maroon Alert said anyway. There wasn’t an inch of road that wasn’t covered by a police car. I begin my walk to the Phi Mu house which is an approximate 0.6 mile walk, and talk to my dad on the phone the entire way. I get about halfway there and EVERYONE is sprinting and screaming. I ask my dad in the most broken, choked up voice, “What do I do? There’s a teacher yelling to get inside the building, but we are supposed to be all clear? Do I run too?” I asked all this while running since everyone else was. I get in the nearest building: Thompson Hall. One of the only buildings on campus with weaponry as it is the forestry and agriculture building. We remain in there for about 15 minutes before being released so I can make the other half of the walk back to Phi Mu.
                Safely in the Phi Mu house at 11 a.m., I learn that we have picked up national attention. CBS began to broadcast live feed and we learn of a press conference that will take place within the hour. As I begin to share stories with my friends while waiting for the press conference, I learn a lot more about the incident. I wasn’t the only one who thought they heard shots. Once we were released, a group thought they heard another shot fire and screamed creating the second wave of panic that sent me to Thompson Hall.
                Then the press conference began. President Keenum and the PR representative claiming there were never any shots fired nor was anyone injured due to the suspect. The suspect was taken into custody within 10 minutes of sending out the first Maroon Alert (kudos to the police and other officers). We also learn that it was a freshman from Madison, MS named Fhu-Qui “Bill” Nguyen who called a suicide hotline in Jackson while on the drill field shortly after 10 a.m. The suicide hotline called MSU police to warn them that he had mentioned suicide and homicide. By 10:10 the drill field was swarmed with police, FBI, SWAT team, sheriffs, and others. Everything was all clear, and classes would resume at 2 p.m.
                While no one was hurt from Bill’s actions, many were injured in the mass chaos of exiting buildings by squeezing through narrow doorways and flying down concrete stairs. The pictures are gruesome for those who are wondering. Maybe I should restate this another way. While no one was PHYSICALLY hurt from Bill’s actions, they were mentally and emotionally. Myself being one of them. Seeing my friends crying and them seeing me crying was hard to bear. We were all shaken. This was not going to happen to me. Certainly not twice.
                I am so proud of Mississippi State for coming together as a family during this time. As unsafe as the situation was, I still somehow felt safe. This evening there were many campus prayer sessions at the amphitheater and at the chapel. That was important to me. This affected everyone, and everyone wanted to thank God for keeping them and their peers safe.
                It is still unknown if there were ever shots fired. Many students believe it, but official reports say otherwise. When something like this happens, you have two choices: be upset that it happened, or be grateful you made it out. While I am a little of both, I am thankful for many things on this day. I am thankful Ryan was far away from the incident and that only one of us was nearby. I am thankful to have my Spanish teacher throughout the situation. I am thankful to have my parents and my best friend texting me every minute asking for updates and calming me down. I am thankful for my friends and Phi Mu sisters who were continuously checking on one another in our group messages. I am thankful for the many Facebook comments, text messages, and prayers that were sent my way today. I am thankful for the officers who risked their life for the sake of mine. I am thankful for MSU’s crisis action team for knowing exactly how to handle the situation. Finally, I am thankful God has his hand on Mississippi State University today. There are many stories of various experiences of the hour or so that changed a lot of lives today. This is just mine. I’m just glad to be able to tell it. But it is a reality check for sure. Small town Starkville, Mississippi is hardly a target for any kind of threat worthy of national news. It wasn’t going to happen to me… but it did.

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