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The Daily Tar Heel

A love letter to those grieving: You are not alone.

Caudill Laboratories 0829 Reilly

Flower bouquets lay at the base of a Caudill Laboratories, the workplace of deceased associate professor Zijie Yan on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

I started writing this article from the dark, sterile basement of Granville West, wedged between my backpack and two classmates who also evacuated Chapman Hall. We collectively munched on the stale Doritos that the Granville staff provided, as we huddled around my phone for news updates about the shooting on campus. 

When new information arose from GroupMe or Yik Yak, we shoved our phones in each other's faces and tried to make sense of it. The reality was we had no idea what was actually happening. Our only reliable source was Alert Carolina, which included three vague words: "Suspect at large." Conflicting details formed a disjointed image of the event. I felt as though I was putting together a puzzle where none of the pieces fit. 

Just three hours prior I was in my Religious Studies class, scribbling notes about the Bill of Rights when the alert showed on the projector: "Emergency: Armed, dangerous person on or near campus. Go inside now; avoid windows." Nervous laughter erupted throughout the lecture hall.

 "Just another day in America," the classmate beside me joked.  

My professor dismissed the alert as a false alarm and continued lecturing. 

My mind traveled back to fourth grade P.E. when the class troublemaker thought it would be funny to pull the active shooter alarm a couple months after Sandy Hook. Our teacher shoved us into the equipment closet and told us to stay silent. At age ten, I wrestled with the fact that I might face the same exact fate as those children who lived just a couple of states north of me. When the kid who pulled the alarm 'fessed up, I remember screaming at him through tears, "It isn't funny!"

That incident might have been a false alarm, but what if this isn't? 

Eventually, we received word that the suspect was in Caudill Labs, a five-minute walk from Chapman. One person was reported to not have a pulse. My professor stopped lecturing and students began to construct a barricade around each door consisting of a table and chair. Every few minutes my phone buzzed with an ''I love you'' text from a friend. This can't be real.  

When I arrived at my house after the ''all-clear" from Alert Carolina, I collapsed in my roommates' arms. We huddled in front of the TV and cried as we watched the press conference. Although I was probably too shaken to be behind the wheel, I drove home an hour later to be with my family. My mom burst into tears the second she saw me.  

"I'm glad you made it here safely." She always said that when I got home, but this time, it took on a different meaning.  

My mom told me that when she picked up my little sisters from school, she asked if they were OK. Apparently, her visible distress confused them.  

"Why wouldn’t we be? Mom, it happens all the time." 

We are the Sandy Hook generation. We grew up crouching behind desks in pitch-black darkness, as our teachers barred the doors shut in case a "scary person" stepped on campus. 

This epidemic has only worsened over time: The Gun Violence Archive counted 645 mass shootings in 2022 alone. It is truly no wonder that my generation has become so desensitized to gun violence we make jokes about it. While I am a proponent of using humor to cope with trauma, some events simply are so devastating that they cannot and should not be funny. 

The people who say this is just another day in America are right. But does this have to be just another day?

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