By David Fleet
East Lansing — Two former high school students had been taught how to respond in an active shooter situation.
Then it really happened to their classmates on the campus of Michigan State University on the night of Feb. 13.
“As a student at Goodrich High School we prepared for this type of event,” said Jordan Zmich, 20, a Goodrich High School graduate and current junior at the Eli Broad College of Business at MSU.
“You just don’t think about this happening on campus at college or anywhere,” she said. “You think you’re in a safe place sitting in a classroom. It’s a big campus. Moving forward, I’m going to be more aware of where I go at MSU.”
According to Michigan State University Police, the first call reporting an active shooter came in at 8:18 p.m., Feb. 13 at Berkey Hall and next door at the MSU Union located on the north side of campus near Grand River Ave. A shelter-in-place was immediately issued for campus and the surrounding community. The MSU Alert system and MSU Emergency Operations Center were both immediately activated. Officers from all across the state responded to campus and began to complete a comprehensive search in an attempt to locate the suspect.
Five victims remain at Sparrow Hospital, Lansing in critical condition on Thursday. Three deceased victims were later identified as Brian Fraser and Arielle Anderson both of Grosse Pointe, and Alexandria Verner, of Clawson.
For hours, students and others sheltered in place on the 5,000 acre East Lansing campus, home to about 50,000 students.
The suspect was captured on campus security cameras at approximately 11 p.m. The suspect photos were shared across MSU DPPS social media channels and through media partners at 11:18 p.m. Because of the quick release of photos, a caller’s tip led officers to the suspect at approximately 11:35 p.m., only 17 minutes after the release of the photos.
The suspect has been identified as 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“It was just chaos,” said Zmich, who now lives off campus and is working this semester as an accounting intern. “My friends were in contact with me just after the shooting and thank goodness they were all safe. I’m really curious to see what Michigan State is going to do when we all come back to campus. I hope there is more security.”
Collin Alward, 19, is a 2022 Grand Blanc High School graduate and Atlas Township resident. He currently is a freshman at MSU and commutes two days per week to campus. On the day of the shooting, Alward had left campus at about 7 p.m. following a day of classes. Later that evening, he received news of the shooting via texts and social media.
“At first I considered it a false alarm,” said Alward. “Just earlier this month school and law enforcement officials received many false threats from districts statewide.”
“But, once I started getting contacted by my friends that are on campus, who said they were locking down in their dorm rooms, barricading their doors, and staying out of sight, I knew this was real.”
“Students were getting multiple reports of shooting at different places on campus during the evening. Campus police were reaching out to students via email and saying to run, hide and fight,” he said.
Alward had been a resident of the 12-story Hubbard Hall about two miles from Berkey Hall, one of largest dorms on campus home to several thousand students.
“The campus police were at Hubbard Hall,” he said. “There were also reports of injuries at IM East Fitness Center of shooting victims. None of the reports were true, but still the wrong information kept flowing. It was chaos all over campus, there was just a lot of misinformation that caused panic.”
As a student at Grand Blanc High School, Alward had several active shooter drills. However, as a second semester freshman at MSU, no training has been conducted so far.
“Most people at MSU never would believe a shooting would occur at their school,” he said. “It’s going to be an eerie feeling stepping back on campus next week. It’s sad, but I’m going to look out a little bit more now, it will be necessary.”
Eric Freedman is a Professor of Journalism and former Associate Dean of International Studies and Programs at MSU. After teaching as an adjunct at the School of Journalism, he joined the faculty full-time in 1996.
Freedman was on a project-related Zoom call with two other MSU faculty members the morning after the shooting.
“Both my MSU colleagues looked and sounded shaken,” he said. “I have spoken with only one of my students who lives across from the MSU Union and described the scene as scary. I do know journalism classes were locked in place the night of the shooting.”
“The reporting (regarding the incident) is going to show some misinformation,” he said. “There was reporting at other buildings (on campus) but, how do you respond as law enforcement with all this going on? It’s nighttime and (MSU campus) is 5,000 acres in size. You just don’t know where the gun shots are coming from.”
Freedman said the University did a good job of keeping people informed and continually ping updates.
“Still, you just can’t lock down the entire campus,” he said. “There are buildings, vehicles, gates and a suspect could walk out in the woods on campus.”
Freedman has had active shooter training during his time at MSU, but it’s been several years.
Thomas Jeitschko, MSU interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs contacted staff provided updates periodically as institutional decisions are made.
“Let’s come together as a community to support one another,” wrote Jeitschko. “It would be both appropriate and prudent to adjust expectations for yourself and your students in the wake of this tragedy. Please show both yourself and your students grace and empathy in the coming days and weeks.”
To provide time and space to grieve, all classes – online and in person – have been canceled through the remainder of this week and will resume Monday, Feb. 20, he said.
Locally, Brandon Fire Chief David Kwapis said an Advanced Life Support crew was dispatched at 9:20 p.m., Feb. 13 from Fire Station 1 to East Lansing.
“Today we are all Spartans,” said Kwapis following the shooting. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Michigan State community. We were called to East Lansing since, unlike Oakland County, Ingham County and neighboring communities do not necessarily have the ability to help in such a situation.
BFD is one of five departments from the Northern Oakland County Mutual Aid Box Alarm System or MABAS.
Ingham County requested “Ambulance Strike Teams” to respond for back up to the East Lansing Fire Department with the Active Shooter incident at Michigan State University. Within a few minutes of that activation, Oakland County responded to assist with ambulances or personnel from Brandon, Groveland, Springfield, Highland, Rochester City, and Oxford along with command staff. The crews were staged near the MSU campus at Okemos High School, about five miles from Berkey Hall.
“The Brandon crew was ready to respond at a moment’s notice in case additional victims were found,” said Kwapis. “The crews from Brandon and other Oakland County departments returned home about 1:30 and 2:30 a.m.”
By David Fleet