EAST LANSING, Michigan (AP) — They smashed windows to escape, barricaded doors and hid under the covers. They silenced their phones, fearful of making even the slightest sound for hours as police searched for a gunman who had already killed three students and seriously injured five others on the Michigan State University campus.
The terror felt by thousands of students – some of whom experienced their second mass shooting – was evident in messages to parents, social media posts and calls to 911 services.
It began at around 8:30pm on Monday when Anthony McRae, a 43-year-old with a prior gun violation, opened fire inside an academic and student union building.
Notices sent to students urged them to “run, hide, fight” and video showed them fleeing as police swarmed into chaos. The massive search that followed ended about three hours later when McRae shot himself to death in a confrontation with police miles from campus, officials said Tuesday.
McRae was neither a student nor an employee of the university. The motive is a mystery.
Jaqueline Matthews, a member of the Michigan State rowing team, squatted for so long when gunfire erupted at Sandy Hook Elementary that her back was permanently injured. Now, a decade later, the 21-year-old international law graduate was watching the chaos outside her campus window, stunned to find herself here once again.
“The fact that this is the second mass shooting I’ve experienced now is incomprehensible,” he said in a TikTok video he recorded in the early morning hours, calling for legislative action. “We can no longer allow this to happen. We can no longer be satisfied.”
She wasn’t the only one experiencing her second mass shooting. Jennifer Mancini told the Detroit Free Press that her daughter also survived the November 2021 shooting that killed four students at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan. Now a freshman at Michigan State, her daughter has been traumatized again.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” said Mancini, who did not want his daughter’s name used.
Others across campus experienced terror for the first time.
Ted Zimbo, a 26-year-old astrophysics graduate, said he was walking back to his residence after an off-campus meeting when he saw police cars everywhere and a woman covered in blood hiding behind a car. He told him that someone walked into his class and started shooting.
“His hands were completely covered in blood. It was on his pants and on his shoes,” she told the Associated Press. “He said, ‘It’s my friend’s blood.'”
That, he said, is when it hit him: “There was a real shooting, a mass shooting.”
The woman picked up the phone and started crying, not sure what had happened to her friend. Zimbo spent the next three hours crouched in his Toyota SUV, with a blanket thrown over him.
At a nearby residence, Karah Tanski said she spent two hours “creaking under a desk, crying, thinking I was literally going to die.”
The 22-year-old resident assistant said some 40 freshmen have relied on her, social media and police scanners for updates during the lockdown. From empty bomb threats to incorrect details about the shooter, the updates were sometimes wrong and added to the “mass hysteria” of the night, Tanski said.
About half a mile east of campus, young Aedan Kelley hid with his roommate, locking the doors and covering the windows.
“It’s all very scary. And then I have all these people texting me asking if I’m okay, which is overwhelming,” she said.
Ryan Kunkel, 22, said he and his classmates turned off the lights and acted as if “there was a shooter right outside the door.” For more than four hours, as they waited, “nothing came out of anyone’s mouth,” he recalled.
“This should be a place where I am coming, learning and improving myself. And instead, the students get hurt”.
Dominik Molotky said he was in a Cuban history class when he and other students heard a gunshot just outside the classroom. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that seconds later the gunman entered the classroom and fired three or four more shots as the students took cover.
“After that we smashed the window and I got out of there. And then I booked it for my apartment,” she said.
Claire Papoulias, a sophomore, told NBC’s “Today” she was listening to a history class when she heard gunshots and fell to the floor.
“At that moment,” she said, “I thought I was going to die, I was so scared.”
She said she silently called her mother as classmates opened a window and helped people to safety. Once outside, she grabbed her backpack and phone.
“And I remember,” she said, “I just ran for my life.”
Sophomores Jake Doohan and Nicole Stark were walking off campus when they learned of the shooting and took cover, barricading a door with a dresser.
With the blinds closed so “not a speck of light could get out,” Stark said he felt like they were watching the news, like “it wasn’t really happening to us.”
The senselessness of it left Doohan dumbfounded.
“It’s sad to think,” he said, “that things like this are going to happen out of the blue to anyone or anywhere.”
John and Rona Szydzik, both Michigan State University graduates, left flowers on campus Tuesday after spending the previous night in hiding as ambulances drove past their home.
As a high school teacher, Rona Szydzik practiced “run, hide, fight” for years. But she added, “To actually be in it, it’s very shocking.” For her husband, the flowers were a way to let the victims’ families know that she cared, that they were praying.
“It was really tough,” she said, getting emotional as she spoke.
Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Associated Press writers Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; Ed White and Corey Williams in Detroit; Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri; Trisha Ahmed in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.