How UMass Students Reacted to the Threat of a Gunman

Last week, UMass Amherst tested the campus emergency alert system. I was walking from class to the Campus Center when a loud, low siren filled the air. Not having recently checked my phone, I didn’t receive the text which informed students and faculty about the test. I scanned the faces of passersby for signs of panic and continued on my route when I saw none. Within the next few moments, a voice boomed overhead, assuring everyone: THIS IS A TEST. The alert was eerie and made campus feel like a Hunger Games arena, but at the same time it was comforting to know we’d be informed in an real emergency. 

Last night, I heard the alarm for the second time at the Campus Center. This time, because I was inside, the noise was muffled and the message unintelligible. Again, nobody reacted. Only when my friend and I checked our phones did we understand what we’d heard:

And only when we got the next message did I feel my stomach twist:

No known direction of travel for either party?”

“We should go,” I told my friend. I thought about the article my mom sent me a few months ago on “What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation” and imagined the first place a gunman would attack is the populated Campus Center. I gathered my books into my backpack and we debated where to go, finally deciding on the WMUA Radio Station in the Campus Center basement. I didn’t see anyone else getting out of line for sushi or packing away their laptops.

My thought process may have been an overreaction, or “blown out of proportion,” as many of my peers declared the situation. After all, I was nearly a mile from Pierpont Residential Hall, where the suspects originally were. But it was surprising how nonchalantly students responded, convincing themselves a few hundred yards was protection enough from two potential shooters with “no known direction.”

The UMass Snapchat Story flicked between students dancing, making mac n’ cheese and smiling for the camera with lighthearted captions about the perks of being on lockdown. There were jokes about the suspects, the sirens and the hopes for seven o’ clock tests to be cancelled. 

These dismissive reactions may have been disguising fear, or they may have reflected a true lack of concern. Either way, I think we, as UMass students, should try to consider our actions with a little more sensitivity.

No one was shot, no lives were lost. So it’s not a big deal, right? The only problem with that reasoning is how easily it could have been. It only takes an instant of panic for a young, unstable individual with a gun to make a deadly decision. If we faced the barrel of the gun in Pierpont, I doubt we’d be so quick to laugh about it on social media. If we knew a victim of an active shooter, or even remembered our sympathy and pain in the aftermath of past school shootings, I think we’d spend more time praying for the safety of our peers and police officers than for test cancellations.

There was “armed robbery, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon” on campus, but no one was killed. I never felt like my life was in danger, but that doesn't mean no one else was scared, anxious or emotional. So let’s dance, snapchat, tweet and celebrate our safety! But in the future, let’s not humorize events that not everyone finds funny. Let's be mindful and support each other in stressful situations, regardless of the outcome, and be eternally thankful our news story is not a tragic one. 

Sources: 1, 2. All others courtesy of author.