MICHIGAN—Crystal Bernard, a Lansing resident who graduated from Michigan State University last year, was walking back to her car from the Graduate Hotel when she noticed a large crowd of students pouring out of the MSU Union building on the campus side of Grand River Avenue.
“I didn’t really know what was going on until someone yelled something like, ‘It’s the shooter,’” she said.
Unbeknownst to Bernard, a 43-year-old man with no known affiliation to MSU had opened fire on campus, first in Berkey Hall, then the student Union—ultimately killing three students and injuring five others. Bernard said she saw students “trampling” one another in an effort to escape the chaotic scene.
Bernard decided to take shelter inside a nearby clothing store, the Rally House, where she and 10 others stayed in the basement for hours until the shelter-in-place order was lifted.
“The first 30 minutes to an hour was pretty quiet, because it was just shock,” she said. “I had the idea that there was an active shooter, but I couldn’t really understand the scope of it.”
While she didn’t know many details about the violence across the street, Bernard said she knew the situation had to be bad.
“It’s winter, and a lot of the students didn’t have coats on or anything, because they had just gotten up and ran,” she said.
One student sheltering with Bernard in the basement had lost her phone “in the calamity of it all,” Bernard said.
“She couldn’t even contact the people she wanted to,” she said.
Bernard said the deluge of information coming in from social media—including the unfounded claim that there were multiple shooters on campus—only exacerbated a sense of stress and confusion. The police would later confirm that only one shooter was on campus on Monday: 43-year-old Anthony McRae.
“It was really trying to keep everyone together until we got official word from the university or police,” she said.
When Bernard finally left the basement after five hours in shelter, she saw that Grand River Avenue was “completely blocked by police cars,” as people tried to leave the area as quickly as they could.
“Then you just saw a bunch of students, some individually and some in groups, just looking, kind of frantically, around for where they’re supposed to be or where their people are,” she said.
Bernard said it’s “hard to fathom” that a mass shooting could happen on the same campus that she had frequented not that long ago as a student.
“When I hear about shootings at other places on the news, I think that, in some ways, I’ve become desensitized to it or have a hard time comprehending the magnitude of events like that,” she said. “Because to comprehend that, is to also run into the idea that I’m actually just as vulnerable.”
She said that’s a “hard pill to swallow” at a place where people want to feel safe.
“I think we have to always act like the threat is in our own backyard,” she said. “Because one day, it actually might be. And what I experienced last night, I feel like was exactly that.”
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