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'Sigh of relief': Resident advisers and students reconnect after shooting

UNC sophomore Catherine Oxendine poses for a portrait in her dorm room on Aug. 29, 2023.

Catherine Oxendine, a resident adviser in Old East Residence Hall, was looking out the window of her room when she first got an Alert Carolina message that there was an armed and dangerous person on campus.

UNC sophomore Catherine Oxendine looks out the window of her dorm room on August 29, 2023. Oxendine claims she saw students running outside her window when she first received the Alert Carolina notification of an armed and dangerous person on campus at 1:03 p.m. on August 28, 2023.

She sent messages to both her friends and residents, asking them to let her know that they were safe. Only a couple weeks after move-in, Oxendine had to quickly learn how to balance getting to know her residents and providing them with support.

“I've tried to take as much of a leadership role as I could,” she said. “It was very disheartening being stuck in the dorm, because I didn't know how my residents were necessarily doing because they weren't here.”

After receiving the all-clear message, everyone — particularly students — had to answer the question: Where do we go now?

Some students went off campus. Others went back to their residence halls to find solace with friends or by themselves. A few went to the quiet dining halls for a meal.

Evie Jacobs, a sophomore pre-nursing major, said she sat quietly with her friends, including Oxendine, after the shelter in place was lifted.

Jacobs said it was strange for their usually lively group to be so quiet and reflective.

“Being able to connect with everyone afterwards was so surreal, it just kind of felt like — ” she paused and sighed. “I don’t know, exactly like a sigh of relief, I guess. I don’t know how to describe it other than a sigh of relief that everyone was okay.”

Sarah Fenwick, a first-year at UNC, said she left the room in Murphey Hall that she and other students had barricaded with a fridge to meet her friends at her dorm.

She spent the night alone in her room, with her roommate choosing to go home for the night.

“Being able to just chill out by myself just felt like the way to go,” Fenwick said.

That night, Jacobs also stayed in her dorm because she was stressed about completing schoolwork for her STEM classes, she said.

“I stayed because I was stressed about like, 'Oh my gosh, are we gonna have class tomorrow?'” she said. “'Do I need to get stuff done tonight? Like how am I gonna even balance my mental health and getting assignments submitted?'”

She tried to take a day off from working to be in peace because her brain couldn't function or focus after Monday, she said.

Classes were canceled for UNC students on Tuesday and Wednesday, but are set to resume Thursday.

Oxendine, who was familiar with campus before her time as a student, said her sense of security on campus has been altered since Monday.

“UNC's campus has always felt like a safe space for me, and to kind of have that taken away is very shocking, and not knowing how to react,” she said.

Oxendine said she has never had active shooter situational training as an RA, but she thinks Carolina Housing likely did not think it was needed because campus has always felt like a safe space.

She said if the University offered this training in the future, it would make her feel more secure and would likely benefit other students as well.

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Oxendine also encouraged students to reach out to their RAs for support and information about resources on campus. She said her housing community held a wellness event for residents to talk through the events of Monday and be there for each other.

“The residents that I do know, and that I'm beginning to know very well, we have all really kind of been there for each other,” Oxendine said. “And I'm positive that in the coming weeks and throughout the rest of the semester, the bond we have, because we all share a common living space, will continue to grow.”


@dthlifestyle |

Eliza Benbow

Eliza Benbow is the 2023-24 lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer university editor. Eliza is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and creative writing, with a minor in Hispanic studies.