On Saturday, February 20, an armed gunman struck in three different locations in Kalamazoo County. Six of the eight shooting victims died, and the other two were seriously injured.
The shootings started at 6 p.m. at Meadows Townhomes in Richland Township, followed by shootings at Seelye Automotive Group on Stadium Drive, and Cracker Barrel on 9th street in Oshtemo Township. They arrested suspect Jason Dalton early in the morning on February 21.
On Saturday, February 20, my housemates had friends over for a dinner, and we went downtown to Old Dog Tavern. At ten, we left Old Dog Tavern and went home. There were a lot of police driving toward campus from downtown, and I wanted to follow them to see what was going on, but my roommates told me not to.
I hung out at home for a while, then went to the newspaper office to finish up work on the print edition. The paper is due to our printers at noon on Sunday, so I usually get up early on Sunday to make the finishing touches, then send it in. If I finished it on Saturday evening, I could sleep in on Sunday instead of prying myself out of bed at seven, like I normally do.
I worked on the paper for a while, adding photos of Saturday’s basketball game, and at 12:15, laid down on the sofa in the office for a moment and checked Twitter on my phone. Instantly, there were retweets — people from Kalamazoo retweeting everything from the national news, with panicked commentary. I sent a screenshot of a tweet to a group text with my roommates, asking if they’d heard anything about the active shooter.
I published an article with the basics, which were the only things I knew at the time. I wanted to go home, but everyone I was in contact with told me to stay inside, stay safe.
A classmate started a mass Facebook message where people were discussing what was going on, and an acquaintance brought up the fact that Western Michigan University failed to send out an alert. He and other students started calling WMU Public Safety and asking them to send an alert, but they refused to do so. People in the mass Facebook message were confused and upset and speculating about where the shooter was.
I felt like I should stay up later, get more information, and keep updating everything, but I was overwhelmed with it all. Around 2:30, I went to sleep on the sofa in the office.
I woke up to the sunrise at 7 and thought about calling the director of University Relations, but decided it was too early to call on a Sunday. I went home to make a cup of coffee, charge my phone and brush my teeth, then went back to the office. I wrote another story for the print edition, finished the layout, double-checked the facts, hoping that I got everything right, and sent it to the printers.
At Wesley, we lit candles for the victims, the shooter, and the community. When my pastor asked me to light the candle for the seventh victim, I panicked, thinking that I was wrong about the number of deaths, that I’d put incorrect information on the front page of Monday’s paper. After a moment, I realized that she was counting all the victims, not those who died.
I’m generally not a strong believer in the power of prayer. I think of it as being similar to journaling, that it can help people process and gain a new perspective on things, but I don’t believe that God is listening to my prayers and taking action based on them. I’ll meditate and journal, but I don’t care much for praying.
On Sunday, it felt like the only thing that made sense. I prayed because there was nothing else I could do.
There were more people at Wesley than there usually are at Sunday night, but not many new people. It seemed like many of the people who come to Wesley sometimes decided that Sunday was a day they needed it.
We had tacos for Sunday night meal. I read the announcements like I do every week, but didn’t tell everyone to “party on” at the end, in an attempt to be somber. There was to be an interfaith vigil downtown in Bronson Park at 6 on Monday.
Sunday night, there was another shooting. I was worried when I saw seven police cruisers pass by my house in a few minutes, but had no idea what was going on until later. My roommate and I were at the grocery store, and one of my other roommates called me to tell us to be careful coming home, not to drive through Fratville.
On Monday, I got up to manage distribution of the paper, worried about everything that could possibly be wrong with our coverage.
President Obama spoke about it, and I was reminded of how he spoke at Kalamazoo Central High School’s commencement in 2010. I didn’t go to high school in Kalamazoo, but my school went against Kalamazoo Central in debate, and I was so jealous that they had Obama speak.
In response to student dismay at WMU’s response to the shootings, Western Student Association held a town hall meeting with members of the administration.
I went to it, sitting with friends and tweeting my reactions.
I probably should have gone to the vigil instead.
Mass shootings have reached a point where they feel routine. This time it’s our turn. People zoom in on the details that differentiate this shooting from the other ones. He was an Uber driver. He shot people in different locations, hours apart. He shot people at their home, at a car dealership, at a restaurant.
This all feels huge now, but I know that there will probably be another shooting this week. We’ll fade from national coverage, but we’ll still be mourning.
When it happens here, we question why this became the Kalamazoo shooting, rather than the Richland Township, City of Kalamazoo, and Oshtemo Township shootings. They’re all in Kalamazoo County, but only the car dealership was in the city of Kalamazoo.
When it happens here, we know friends-of-friends who knew the victims, we know that they were on their way home from a show at Miller Auditorium, we know that one of the victims was an alumni from our Wesley.
I moved to Kalamazoo in January 2014, in the middle of a blizzard. We had a snow day the first day of the semester. I lived in an old house in the Vine neighborhood, on a steep, narrow street that was questionably paved. For the first two months I lived there, I could barely drive up the street. To keep the gas bill low in that drafty house, my roommates covered the windows with blankets and left the thermostat in the high 50’s. I worked at Biggby Coffee, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and the Western Herald, starting my pattern of having all the jobs at once.
That summer, I stayed in Kalamazoo, taking classes, working, finally making friends and feeling at home in college. In the fall I became opinions and social media editor at the Herald, started going to Wesley, and started to get involved in the robot labs. I took a grad playwriting class and I was admitted to the public relations program. Kalamazoo became home, and I loved it.
I often find myself defending Kalamazoo to outsiders who talk about crime and poverty. I talk about how it’s not so bad, about the great music scene and the craft beer, how cheap rent is here. I talk about Metro Detroit the same way when I’m in other states. It’s an impulse that’s different from pride — I don’t think that either Kalamazoo or Metro Detroit are amazing, but they’re home. I can’t let other people think that it’s bad.
Kalamazoo will always be special for me. This shooting, and our brokenness and mourning doesn’t change that.
I wish I could tie this up nice and neat, somehow. Maybe a better writer could find a way.
I could say that we’re all stronger as a community, that we’re banding together and stopping gun violence for good, that I will stop feeling sad and angry precisely one week after the shootings. I can’t. There’s not a happy ending or a positive spin that I can put on this. It’s terrible and sad, and it will probably happen to other people again soon. There isn’t anything I can do to stop that, so I hold my friends and family closer, I make sure one of my reporters is covering the vigil, and I pray and journal and get angry.