Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tragedy at Lone Star College

I woke up this morning to find an email from a friend that was at Lone Star College the morning of the attack, and it rattled me in a good way. It is full of love and grace for her entire community, and as she goes back to class this morning to face her students for the first time since the attack... I would really love it if we could all lift her up. I know that nothing short of divine intervention could get me through a situation like this, and give me the words to try to start the healing process for all of the people she encounters today.

I asked her for her permission to share this with "the world" -- which won't happen unless I get some major help from all of you that might read this. Please pass this on to anyone you know -- this message is just as important as anything being shared by the media... and I believe more powerful to show the love and grace that my friend has for her students, and the attacker himself.

I've changed their names, and removed as much personal information as I can because this was originally sent to her friends and family. She has some security issues in her family that need to remain protected, and I take that very seriously.

Here is the note I got from her this morning:

Dear friends and family,

By now, I am sure you have heard about the tragedy at my campus on Tuesday, April 9. Unfortunately, the incident involved one of my students. Below, I have written an account of the day's events. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we process and work through this.


Hopeful


            It started out like any other Tuesday this semester. The alarm clock went off entirely too early. After a restless night of sleep consumed by worries of "E"'s upcoming surgery, I groggily arose from bed and prepared for work. "M" and I made our way through congested Houston traffic, and after dropping her off I school, I coasted onto campus in time to make my way up to my classroom for the next five and a half hours of lecture.

            My first class was easy. I love lecturing on marriage and relationships. We had a peaceful discussion on the divorce rates in the US and I emphasized the individual's responsibility to having a successful relationship. As with many other times in my teaching career, I reminded my students that we cannot control others, but we can control our own communication and what we contribute to our relationships.

            My second class began at ten. With upcoming presentations, there was a bit of nervous tension in the air. We worked on impromptu speeches and I continuously praised my wonderful students for their hard work and just how far they had come in twelve short weeks. At the end of class, one of my students approached and asked, "Have you heard from Dylan? I'm worried about him. He is a big part of our group."

            I'll admit; I was confused. Dylan had been present and active in class. Why was he worried about him? I assured him that I would track Dylan down and make sure he was okay - I'd tell him how much he was treasured by his group.
            I sorted through lecture notes in preparation for my third class of the day. Suddenly, my phone rang. The voice on the other end cried out "Professor M, hurry hurry. Dylan, he stabbed some girl in the face. Professor M, they threw him on the ground. They are arresting him. You have to come help! Please hurry, hurry!"
            The desperation in her voice pierced my heart as I ran outside to find my students standing in shock. What in the world was going on? I ran to the police. I said, "He's my student. He's deaf. Please make sure he can hear you."
            My body started shaking. I had no idea what was going on - and crisis mode began. As an undergraduate, I had studied and written papers on school shootings in my Crisis Communication Management course. I went back to that place, desperately trying to figure a plan. I returned to my classroom and immediately checked my emails and the campus website. Nothing. No information. I made the decision to be logical rather than emotional and proceeded with class as scheduled. I knew that I had to be a voice of reason and stability for my students.

            We took attendance, discussed the remaining items on our course schedule, and then settled into lecture on the delivery methods in public speaking.


And then I received a text. Lockdown, shelter in place.


            I immediately remembered the emergency plan for our campus. We turned off the lights, barricaded the door with desks and quietly huddled in the corner. Students began to sob and cry. What was going on outside of our room? A new campus email told us that another assailant was on the loose. Was he/she in our building? What was going on?
            My three children's precious faces flashed in my mind. What would happen to them if I died? What would happen to my fragile girl who is currently rattled with health issues? "Dear God, please help me," I prayed. But I also knew that my students were someone else's children. Their parents were worried and relying on me to keep them safe and calm.
            Without thinking twice, I knew that I had to be calm, I had to be strong and I needed to pray for my students. Being a public institution, I asked my students if it was okay if I prayed out loud for them. They begged me to. And so I did. And then, the room filled with peace.
            It seemed like eternity, as we sat huddled in a dark quiet room. Students were using their smart phones to check media outlets for updates. The victim count was rising. First five, then eight, then twelve... I was terrified, but reason took over.  And then, classrooms in our hallway started to empty, and students filled the hallways. We heard the words that we were free to leave. We gathered our belongings and left the building.

            While we exited, one of my students, a gentlemen in Dylan's group, stood still and numb. I asked if he was okay. All he could say was, "What are we going to do about our project? Dylan was so important in our group." His shock and disbelief shook me to my core.
            When I knew my students had safely exited the building, my reason was replaced by overwhelming emotion. Was this really happening? Had my beloved student really just violently attacked multiple victims while he was supposed to be in my class? I began to shake and feel nauseous, fighting the urge to vomit in the parking lot. I placed calls to let my loved ones know I was okay. I cancelled the doctor appointment I was supposed to be at that afternoon. I tried to keep busy in my car to keep myself from falling apart.

            Over the next hour, I sat in line to exit the campus. Thoughts ran through my mind like an emotional marathon. Even twenty -hour hours later, I cannot process those thoughts clearly. I worried about the injured students - were they going to survive? I worried about my students - how were they holding up? I worried about my colleagues and learning community - how was this going to change us? But most of all, I worried about Dylan.

            My phone rang. It was the precious student who had frantically called me earlier. She wanted to make sure I was safe. And like me, she worried about Dylan. Right before class, she saw him in the hallway and gave him a hug. She proceeded up the stairs to class, while he claimed he was going to get a drink and would be there. Like me, she wondered, "how did this happen?" Would this young man, someone she called her friend, be okay?
            I replayed the previous 11 weeks of class in my mind. Were there signs? Did he say something that I should have noticed? Had he been angry or depressed? How on earth did I not see this? What if, what if, he had come to my classroom today?

            As fate would have it, an old friend from whom I was estranged, reached out to me last week. She lives directly across the street from the college. She called me and begged me to not drive home. She was right. I was in no shape to drive. After spending a couple of hours trying to calm down, I was able to safely drive home. And for the remainder of the evening, I struggled to make sense of such a senseless tragedy.

            Today, I awakened to a flood of emotions. It seems all so strange. Like I am reading about someone else's life. While never in immediate danger myself, I can't help but think how it could have easily been me and it could have happened in my class. Yet something deep inside tells me the reason he went across campus was because he couldn’t do this to people he knew, and people he knew cared about him. I feel shaky. My body is trying to process the amount of adrenaline in a million rushes all experienced in one day. I feel anger. The media trying to demonize Dylan, when I know he is not the monster they will paint him to be. If anything, he is a very sick young man that needs medical help. I feel grief. The loss for our community is great, and though I know we will rise above it, we will never be the same. I feel confused.

            But most of all, I feel hopeful; my students have handled this beautifully. I was overwhelmed by the number of text messages, emails and phone calls I received from my students thanking me and commending me for my actions during the crisis. The reality is, I am proud of them. I am thankful for them. I believe in them. And I believe in us. We are a special place. Not just a community college where people show up for classes, take tests and get grades. We are a unique body of learners who are living life together. We will overcome this.

            Haruki Murakami, contemporary Japanese writer has said, “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
            When this storm is over, we won't be the same. We will be stronger.

As I reread this, my blood ran cold all over again --I am in awe of my friend's strength and wisdom. Her ability to put reason over emotion is remarkable, I truly don't know if I would be able to have that poise... I pray I never have to find out. Will you join me in lifting her up today, and give her some divine words to use with her students today? Pray that a peace beyond understanding washes over them. 

I find it interesting that in the few media outlets that I looked at this morning - there is no mention of this story. While in some ways that is good, in others it worries me. Is it falling off the radar because there aren't any updates? Is it because it was a knife attack instead of a gun? Is it because there isn't anything that can be used to further a political agenda? I don't know, but I sincerely hope that this message from her can get out anonymously to the world -- so that just maybe we can all have some hope that while these tragedies keep happening in our country... there are some remarkable people on the ground working to help all of us get through it. 

Please consider posting about this, or even emailing a link to your family & friends. I will be sending this to her -- so feel free to post messages and comments. **Any that are disrespectful or hurtful will not be published.**