By JOEY CAPPELLETTI and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER Associated Press
When the texts began coming in about a shooter at Michigan State University, training that many students started receiving as schoolchildren automatically kicked in.
They ran. They found a place to hide. They locked and barricaded the doors. They turned out the lights. Then they waited as a gunman who killed three students and wounded five more eluded police for some three hours.
They are part of a generation that has grown up with active shooter drills. Schools and districts across the U.S. implemented such training after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.
The first lockdown Michigan State junior James Cameron remembers was in elementary school, when there was a shooting a block away. Cameron said he’s participated in drills ever since.
“First, we were taught to be quiet. Run. And then to fight if you are caught,” he said.
Many school districts use ALICE training, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
Fighting back is encouraged as a final option. Students and educators are taught to use scissors, pencils, pens, books, fire extinguishers and any other item they can find as weapons.
“Our generation has never been safe at school and in places of celebration and in places of peace,” said Jacob Toomey, a Michigan State student who is also a commissioner in nearby Eaton County.
“When I was growing up and attending high school, I can remember the active shooter drills we had,” Toomey said. “I’ll never forget ducking underneath my desk as we imagined shooters entering our classrooms. I’ll never forget our school resource officers walking around the school with a dark, holstered gun meant to protect us.”
With the first reports of shots Monday night, Michigan State issued a “shelter-in-place” order. The school subsequently sent alerts urging students to run, hide or fight. Those inside buildings were told to secure the rooms they were in.
All of the people shot were students. The gunman, 43-year-old Anthony McRae, later killed himself miles away after being confronted by police. Authorities were still trying to determine a motive and say he has no known connection to the university.
For some students, it was not their first experience with a mass shooting. A few attended Oxford High School, where four teens were killed 14 months earlier, on Nov. 30, 2021.
Matthew Riddle recalled the conversations he had with his daughter, now a Michigan State student, after she survived the Oxford shooting.
“‘Lightning doesn’t strike twice, right? This has happened to you and it can’t happen again, right? To Oxford, to you or anybody else,’ and frankly that’s not true,” Riddle told NBC News.
At an event Wednesday at the Michigan Capitol in support of gun restrictions, organizer Maya Manuel asked people to raise their hands if they had “experienced lockdown drills.” Almost all of the MSU students seated on the Capitol steps in front of Manuel had their arms up in the air.
“Thank you,” she said.
Among those attending was Andrea Jones, the mother of an Oxford High School senior and an eighth-grader at Oxford Community Schools. She said her niece attends Michigan State. For youngsters, even just experience lockdown drills can be traumatizing, she said.
“Honestly, there are days that I feel guilty about having had kids the way things are right now,” Jones told The Associated Press.