Apr 30, 2024 - News

What we won't forget about the April 30, 2019 school shooting at UNC Charlotte

Students lay candles and flowers at the steps of Kennedy Hall

Students lay candles and flowers on the steps of Kennedy Hall on May 1, 2019. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

When you've experienced a school shooting, some moments are so vivid and everlasting, you'll break out in goosebumps every time you retell them.

  • I was a senior at UNC Charlotte on April 30, 2019. Here's what I remember from that day.

The long silence. Before the "Run, Hide, Fight" text came through, I heard what was happening through buzzing texts and group chats. As I looked up and around my writing class, I realized everyone else was looking at their phones, too.

  • There's an uncomfortable quiet that follows. A few, extended seconds when no one wants to be the first to say what they're learning. And then once someone does, you shut the door.

The door. You know in movies when there's a tunnel vision-like image down a long hallway, like an actor took a strange drug or is searching for an escape route.

  • From where I was sitting in my class, before we shut the door, it was a clear view to the main entry in the lobby, where anyone could walk through. The first person they'd lock eyes with would be me.
  • That bland, open, classroom door and that distorted hallway are forever ingrained in my mind.

The texts I didn't send. When UNC Chapel Hill had a lockdown this past year, The Daily Tar Heel published a front page with texts students sent: "I love you." "Please pray for us." "I'm so scared."

  • Mine wouldn't have been on there.
  • I never texted my parents to tell them I love them. I texted my brother, who was a freshman at Charlotte at the time, and made sure he was OK. I figured he'd pass the message that he'd heard from me.
  • I think I didn't want to feel like a statistic.

The bottom line: There's a lot about that day I'll never forget. The armed officers who let us out room by room, one by one. The walk home, surrounded by blue lights, not believing Charlotte could have so many police cars. Standing around the kitchen island with my college roommates past midnight and recounting what happened.

I asked readers to share what they remembered. Here's a bit of what some said, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • "When we were finally given the all-clear to return to campus later that night, I could feel the devastation and pain just from walking on campus." — Jonathan Alo, Class of '22
  • "We moved away from the windows and sat on the floor in the solemn darkness waiting for updates, quietly talking to one another and texting family members who had become frantic when they learned what was happening. When we got word that two students had been shot and killed in Kennedy, just two buildings away, the room became pin-drop silent." — Dr. Chris Weiss, Class of '23
  • "My students and I, waiting at the classroom door to punch anyone who came through it." — Ellyn Ritterskamp, instructor
  • "It was a scary feeling to hear someone had died and then waiting to get a final head count from our team that everyone was accounted for. So I remember how my heart felt like it was missing a beat as we reached out." — Christopher Everett Jr., former staff member
  • "The realization that what you see on TV is really how it happens, when we had to file out of the rooms/building with our hands raised." — Kelley Fluharty, former staff member
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