My name is Sarah. I’m currently an undergraduate junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the United States’ first public university. I study sociology and communication with a concentration in interpersonal and organizational communication. Here are my thoughts after the UNC shooting of Monday, August 28, 2023.
It was right after 1PM, on the first day of the second week of classes. Shots were fired in a building on main campus, sending all of UNC into lockdown for hours until the all-clear was sounded. We found out later that night that a faculty member was tragically shot and killed. No one else was injured. In the moment, however, all of campus held its breath in anticipation and fear of a mass shooting erupting.
When the sirens first when off, I was in my room on campus, alone, with none of my suitemates there. I’d just returned from the dining hall on main campus and walked just several minutes to my dorm. I was working on my laptop when the screen began to flash the alert: “Police report an Armed and Dangerous Person On or Near Campus.”
Immediately, sirens began to sound outside. As they blared, a voice repeated the same alert notice, over and over. My phone began to buzz with the UNC AlertCarolina system notifying us to get indoors.
I was alone in my suite, and did not know if anyone else was in any of the rooms on my hall. I snapped into go-mode and began texting my friends and the communities that I am a student leader in: “Are you safe? Are you indoors? Did you see the AlertCarolina? Stay away from windows.” Over the next three hours, I sent and received countless variations of those same messages.
Information began to trickle in, some of which was accurate and much which was not. Throughout the entire lockdown, the thing that we were the most desperate for was information, updates, news of what was happening outside our locked rooms. Rumors of hostages, many people shot and injured, and multiple attackers working together flooded my text messages. My imagination began to run wild with bloodied scenes of mass casualties. Every time I received a new piece of information, I sent it to my friends, and they did likewise; in the meantime, AlertCarolina sent out updates every half hour or so telling us to continue sheltering in place.
Mostly, we were desperate for information. Negative, positive, disastrous — we craved any news that would help us know how to respond. Although I was outwardly calm, I felt incredibly helpless, alone in my room with no action to take. I remember wishing that I was on main campus, where I would at least have people to be with during the lockdown.
At one point, I heard helicopters circling right outside my window as police sirens continued to blare close by. I left my room and locked myself in the windowless bathroom. Logically, emotionally, and mentally, I knew that it was highly unlikely that a suspect would get into a locked building, climb multiple flights of stairs, and get into my bathroom. My brain knew this, and yet my body was preparing me for fight or flight. I was very calm mentally, and observed that my heart rate was skyrocketing and my heartbeat was thudding in my ears. My body was trembling with adrenaline, ready to burst into action at the sound of gunfire that never came.
In the next days, we of course heard the actual facts of Monday’s shooting and lockdown. Thoughts flooded my mind: thoughts that I had been silly to be so worked up, thoughts that no one understood what it was like to be alone during the lockdown, thoughts that we needed to rally as a campus, thoughts that rallying as a campus was the last thing I wanted to think about.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling incredibly alone. It took being with familiar and safe friends for me to relax, and I did not fully process Monday’s events until Tuesday night, when I left campus to go home and finally had space to pray and talk with Jesus about what I had experienced. In fact, I am still continuing to sit with the Lord and listen to His heart. There is grace.
I would like to remind my fellow UNC students and community members that in order to begin healing, we must be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and with one another. We need healing; this is undeniable. And there is good news: Jesus desires to heal us, and He will bind up our wounds. I believe this with all my heart.
We have been confronted with the darkness of humanity, and we must turn to Jesus who washes our sin. Once again, I believe this with all my heart.
I am proud of my fellow students who came together to pray and comfort one another after the shooting, and I am thankful for the adults and families who opened their homes and hearts to us. To all of us, I say: God will bring us out stronger and more unified and pure than ever before. The reason? He is Good. I believe this with all my heart.
Note: I typically share my photography work on this journal. However, more than marketability, my goal is to share my honest journey through art, relationship, and life with you, and that includes my role as a student. Thank you for reading these words, and for rallying with the UNC community.