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Michigan State University Reflections

At 12:30 am, the shooter at the Michigan State University shot and killed himself. While this ended the immediate threat to the University and surrounding community, it did not mark the end of the event.

The students, faculty and administration will grieve and recover for months if not years to come. Other events will trigger memories and feelings, fear and anxiety in many who were suddenly thrust into this tragic night of events. Law enforcement officers that responded to the shooting will forever remember the night before Valentine’s day as well, statistically they will suffer from critical stress possibly for the rest of their careers.


We want there to be an end. We want to be able to say that this horrible act perpetuated by a stranger lasted no more than a few hours, but the history and reality tell us that last night could be the longest night in many lives as the event becomes a part of their future as well.

As the activity slowed and buildings were cleared in the wee hours of the morning, critical stress began to seep into minds. Critical incident stress refers to the range of physical and psychological symptoms that might be experienced by someone as a result of being involved in a traumatic critical incident. Critical incident stress is simply the body's normal reaction to an abnormal event.



Last night was a traumatic critical incident because it falls into the category of an during which a person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with serious injury, death, mass casualties; any incident in which a person’s life has been imperilled or threatened; or any situation that is recognized at the time to have the potential to significantly interfere immediately or at a later time with a person's ability to function professionally or personally.


Reactions to any critical incident vary and each individual will have his/her own unique response to what happened last night but the dynamics and scope of last night’s shooting will have repercussions far beyond the campus boundaries. Today there are parents who suddenly are cancelling celebrations because they do not feel well or are suddenly exhausted “just glad that it is over”. Other parents may head to the University just to be with their child and others have already made arrangements to bring their child home simply so they can be together.


Immediately after a critical incident was seemingly over, there would have been an initial period of shock which inevitably spilled over onto social media as students began to share their experiences and perceptions, thoughts and feelings. This shock can manifest itself in various ways and was probably peppered by reactions showing no stress at all which is also normal.

Last night, approximately one hour before the shooter killed himself, FOX News was interviewing a student who had gathered friends and was sheltering in place within the dormitory. Confident that he was following every instruction messaged by campus law enforcement, there was no wavering in his voice nor a look of fear on his face but when asked about how he felt, he simply said, “Scared…scared…just scared.”


This is a normal reaction as signs of critical stress can often be delayed may not begin to surface until hours, days or weeks after the event. It is for this reason that the response to the shooting must not stop now. The response now needs to be immediate and thorough (if not almost forceful) in order to reach not just the students but administrative and teaching staff, the parents and possibly close friends of University students.


The reason for this urgency is that most individuals will find that stress reactions have improved or disappeared completely within four to six weeks but if symptoms continue after four to six weeks, the individuals may be vulnerable to the development of a more chronic condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.


As students begin to share, we will see more and more posts like this one from firstyear student "Raina": As a first year student at Michigan State University, I never thought I would experience what occurred last night. What started as my bus going the wrong way at 8:22pm, I had no idea we were going to pick up running students from the Union building where lives were lost. To think I almost got off the bus at that exact stop to have dinner for the night. A night that was supposed to be normal turned into the scariest night of my life. Sitting on my bathroom floor for 4 hours with my roommates, sending I love you texts to family, not sure if I was going to see them again. Please take a moment to pray for the Spartan community and the tragedy of the 3 young lives that were taken and the 5 currently in life threatening condition. The world is a scary place, and things need to change. I love you all and I am ever so grateful that I did not get off that bus.



Education will be key as the next few weeks develop. Family members should be educated on what changes to look for in their siblings or child as they emerge from this incident. Teachers and professors need to be aware of changes in behavior amongst colleagues and administrators need to make sure that all messaging and assistance is clear and readily available.


As for the law enforcement personnel that responded, the plan should be the same. Increased vigilance should be a top priority amongst the hundreds that responded and their leadership. One-time critical stress debriefings are rarely effective following situations like this but should rather become regular meetings for the next several weeks.


As the media rallies around a news story that could increase ratings and create “hyper-watching”, it is important that the University and local law enforcement do not get caught up in the arm-chair quarter-backing that is bound to happen as it will distract from the reality of a need for healing and peace in the community.


Criticism is the normal action of the people these days but my personal reflections of last night include an overwhelming sense of faith in the law enforcement responding. Unlike many that watched news coverage of the event, I monitored the situation for hours via police scanner and was impressed by the self-control and calm portrayed by the officers while under such duress. I was impressed by the leadership that was shown not only tactically but in the press conference opportunities as focus remained razor-sharp.


With a University representing so many students and faculty, the “crime scene” could have been overwhelming for the very best in law enforcement and yet the officers responding referred immediately to their plan and their training calmly and professionally.



Police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman

In a statement released by the University to the students, President Santa J. Ono recognized that the whole community was reeling from the event and announced a vigil for 7pm this evening on the campus grounds.


I will say that in all of the shooting scenarios I have witnessed, I was impressed by MSU Police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman and his professionalism throughout the night. Rozman’s calming demeanor had to have left a lasting impression on many students and family members glued to their televisions throughout the ordeal.

Rozman posted on his Linkedin profile the following statement: “Policing needs those who are passionate, professional, with a drive to serve others. An altruistic person with the spirit of a warrior and the heart of a guardian.”


Obviously a man that walks the walk.

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