Thousands of Spartans mourn Monday's tragedy at campus vigil
Thousands of members of the Spartan community came together Wednesday night at a vigil on Michigan State University’s campus.
They stood united following Monday’s mass shooting that left three students dead.
Crowds of students, faculty, and supporters stood together in front of MSU’s Spartan Statue on the cloudy, windy evening. The community has turned the site into a makeshift memorial for this week’s tragedy. Dozens of supportive signs and bundles of flowers surround the figure.
MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff’s impassioned remarks make the purpose of the night clear: to find a way to move forward and remember the victims of the violence.
“We honor them," Woodruff said. "We honor them with our march, we honor them with our words. And we honor them by lifting our eyes up yet again.”
The idea for the gathering came from an alum who suggested the community reimagine the Spartan Walk—a march ahead of football games when supporters walk alongside the team to Spartan Stadium.
The group follows Woodruff and student leaders east toward the vigil. Most wear Green and White in solidarity.
The crowd arrives at The Rock, painted over four times since Monday night. Earlier in the day, an artist wrote the names of Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner, the three students killed. Above their names is a message: "Always a Spartan.”
Attendees do what they can to process what’s happened. They lay bouquets of flowers that flutter in the wind beneath The Rock. Some light candles. Others come forward and just kneel, hugging friends for support as they wipe their tears.
Curt Dwyer, a pastor with the Martin Luther Chapel in East Lansing and president of MSU's Religious Advisor's Association, tells attendees to take time, seek out help if they need it and mourn those lost in the violence.
“My prayer for all of you, in the midst of your grief and pain, is that you also will have the sure and certain hope of a better time that will follow the darkness of this current moment,” Dwyer said.
Hours earlier and miles away in neighboring Lansing, students demanded not just prayers, but action. They staged a sit-in off the steps of the state Capitol and urged legislators to enact laws to make schools safe from gun violence.
To MSU Student Katie Sundeen, the frequency of school shootings and threats in the community are an outrage.
“When is enough enough?" Sundeen said. "How many times do I have to text my loved ones and ask if they are safe? Which words do I need to say to convince politicians that my life matters more than someone’s right to bear arms?”
Back at the vigil, political figures, administrators and students address a crowd that has grown to thousands. They hope the five students who remained hospitalized will have a swift recovery.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an MSU alum, lays flowers at the memorial and sits in the crowd for a few minutes before taking to the stage. She promises she won't let this moment pass without doing something about it.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure that those we've lost are not just numbers or stories to be forgotten in a week or month from now," Whitmer said. "We are in a unique position to take action to save lives. And that's exactly what we are going to do."
Basketball coach Tom Izzo encourages everyone to process their trauma in whatever way helps them the most, but to do it together as a community.
“Our hearts are heavy," Izzo said. "Our loss has been great. Our lives have been permanently changed. But with a shared commitment to help each other. And a promise to remember those we have lost. We will learn to find joy once again.”
Students and faculty are scheduled to head back to the classroom next week. But for the community, the chaos that seized East Lansing will make the return far from business as usual.
There are already conversations about organizing an annual march and a day of remembrance for the tragedy that devastated the campus.
Melorie Begay and Colin Jackson contributed to this report.