Content Warning: This article contains graphic reflection on the April 30 tragedy.
Although the UNC Charlotte community experienced the events of the April 30 shooting together, each member of the community remembers that day differently. In an effort to properly observe its first anniversary, the Niner Times asked the community to share their story of that day and how it affected them.
Abigail Shumar, a sophomore English major and writer for the Niner Times, was eating with friends at the SOVI dining hall when she was made aware of the active shooter on campus. Despite instructions to observe campus lockdown, she and her friends went to a Scott Hall. She spent the rest of the day in the 11th-floor lounge watching the news, receiving worried calls from both loved ones and people she had not spoken to in years.
Without much time to plan, Abigail moved everything from her dorm and left campus the next day. “I ended up leaving that next afternoon,” said Abigail. “Moving out of my dorm felt very chaotic and rushed.” In reaction to the shooting, Abigail said she considered transferring schools.
Through personal reflection on that day, Abigail said she learned to distance herself from those who “didn’t have her best interest in mind.” She worked to surround herself with people that cared about her.
Abigail wanted to thank her friend Mason who, the night after the shooting, walked with her to go get free pizza from the ROTC building. “You really learn in a crisis who the good friends are,” said Abigail. “and he was definitely one of them.”
Megan Beach, a senior political science major, was in the classroom when the shooter started firing. Afraid for her life, she and many other students hurriedly attempted to exit through the classroom door. She fell in the panic and was trampled by her classmates causing minor injury to her knees.
Megan said the days after the shooting were about tending to her wounds and ensuring her own physical safety while attempting to process what she had witnessed.
“It definitely changed how I view life,” said Megan. “Those terrifying moments taught me how precious life truly is and how quickly it can end for any of us. I've started living more, taking more risks, and just living each day to the fullest because two of my classmates no longer get to. I've also learned how to manage the mental aspect that came from all I experienced that day. It's certainly been a long process of recovering on the inside.”
Although Megan witnessed something horrific, her faith in the good of humanity remains strong.
“While it was a dark and scary time, I saw people coming together to help and do whatever they could,” said Megan.
Megan also came through that day with a different outlook on life. She urges others to “not take a second of this life for granted. Everything you have can be gone tomorrow and some of your friends might not even make it through the night. So love hard, take risks, and live your life. Make yourself proud.”
Annie Burchill, a junior religious studies and criminal justice double major and a former SOAR student coordinator, was in front of the library minutes before shots were fired. She had just finished helping the new orientation counselors film a skit for the summer SOAR sessions. She was walking into SOVI with her boyfriend as they received the "run, hide, fight" alert.
While she was devastated by the shooting, her immediate focus was on the well-being of her friends and coworkers.
“I’d never had to frantically call and text my friends and coworkers to make sure they were alive and safe before,” said Annie. “The day after the incident, I was on the ground working with Kristine Slade and so many others to organize the vigil. It was something that was born out of Slade's heart, fueled by myself and those close to her, and made possible by the incredible strength of Niner Nation and its surrounding community.”
Annie and her coworkers also had the responsibility of determining how to proceed with student orientation that was planned to start just weeks after April 30. They had to account for how the new students and the orientation counselors would be impacted.
“The week after, my two other student supervisors and I were meeting with our bosses to reconfigure, regroup and work to move forward,” said Annie. “We actively tried to make space for the Orientation Counselors to feel, speak, be heard and reflect.”
Annie feels as though she has still not fully processed that day, but she believes that the UNC Charlotte community including herself grew stronger from the experience.
“My heart still breaks brand new every time I think about the pain that was inflicted on my classmates, faculty, staff and community,” said Annie. “For all the bad, there was still some good that emerged much later. We all got to grieve and grow together and see our community rally behind us...April 30 also gave me the courage to become more outspoken and bold in regard to social issues, to ensure that I would not be silenced and injustices would not go unseen.”
Annie said she is “proud of all the students who survived and showed up again to class last fall, grateful for the Office of New Student and Family Services for its efforts to support me and all those it supervised, thankful for the lives of the students who were injured but stuck through it, and still thinking about Reed and Riley.” However, she says she “will never fully forgive the administration of UNC Charlotte or the UNC System for not speaking out against and denouncing gun violence.”
An anonymous student was in their dorm room watching a movie while it happened. They had several nightmares and panic attacks in the weeks following the shooting. It is a year after the shooting, and much of their fear still remains.
“I’m constantly observing my surroundings, more than I had already done before,” said the student. “When I hear sirens when I’m on campus, I get nervous and begin checking the news. Loud noises scare me and if I hear screams outside, my heart stops briefly. Randomly, I’ll notice triggers like umbrellas in the rain because I associate that with the perpetrator who let me share his umbrella weeks before April 30th in the rain. I carry pepper spray and think of what I will do to defend myself if someone came into my classroom.”
Ashley Anderson, a junior Spanish major, was in an off-campus apartment when it happened. At first, the shooting made her fearful and paranoid. With time, that fear lessened, and she felt closer to her loved ones and the UNC Charlotte community.
Even though she has moved forward from that day, Ashley said she is "angry with the lack of laws and compassion that allowed and still allow these things to be such a common occurrence.”
Chelsea Wansley, a junior political science major, was driving from her internship in uptown when she was made aware of the situation on campus.
Chelsea said that day “felt like a pause button. I was focused on the upcoming exams and end of the year events and after that day it felt like all that adrenaline had nowhere to go.”
Chelsea said that it was unsettling for the world to keep going on around her as her life paused.
“I was overwhelmed with the support and community response offered by UNC Charlotte, surrounding Charlotte and around the nation,” said Chelsea. “[The response] made me even more proud to be a Niner in those uncertain times.”
“Coming back to campus for the first time was bittersweet. I was excited to be back with all my resilient students and staff, yet there was a new weight and new adjustments to be felt all over again,” said Chelsea. “Still, processing that day comes in waves, but it has made me more appreciative of UNCC and the community. My fear and doubt were always met with resounding support and care.”
An anonymous alum who recently graduated had left campus earlier that day to go see a movie. They received the Niner Alert as the movie was ending and spent the next half hour in the movie theater parking lot contacting people.
“At first, it didn’t really feel like it happened,” said the alum, “but there were a few days where I was constantly refreshing my phone. I wanted to do something, but there is really nothing you can do in that situation. I sat around doing nothing for a few days in a daze. I had to get ready for graduation but it felt a bit strange participating in those traditions. I felt a bit helpless and the world felt like it was going faster.”
“The fact that my exams were canceled was a relief in the short term but felt awful in the long term,” said the alum. “I felt that I received the grades without truly earning them. Because I’ve always looked forward to going to college, having my grades basically given to me was another blow.”
The alum says that they are unsure if they have accepted what happened that day or if they will receive closure.
“Everyone in that room was faced with the worst horror imaginable,” said the alum, “and I sincerely hope that they are receiving the care they deserve. Riley and Reed will always be remembered.”
Every member of the UNC Charlotte community was affected on April 30, 2019. Regardless of physical location or connection to the University, life was changed for everyone from that day forward. It is important to reflect on that day and its lasting impact while moving forward together.