William Clark would not have been at the scene of the Nov. 28, 2016, attack had he not filled in to teach an engineering course for a colleague during the second half of Autumn Semester.
Clark, a professor emeritus of material science engineering, had retired after 35 years of teaching at Ohio State. He was one of the 13 victims of the car and knife attack on campus that day.
Clark was struck by the car Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove into a crowd of people who were gathered outside Watts Hall due to an unrelated chemical leak in a nearby lab. Clark suffered from two severe cuts to his right leg.
But one year after the attack, Clark is continuing to withhold judgment on Artan and the unconfirmed ISIS association portrayed by some media and President Donald Trump, who met with victims in December as president-elect, and said Artan, a Somali refugee, “should not have been” allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
“Before I pass judgment on this young man, I’d like to see what exactly the circumstances are and exactly why he took the course of action he chose,” Clark said in a press conference held the day after the attack. “I’m a research professor, I like to make my guesses based on data.”
His opinion on the attack remains similar to what it was one year ago.
“I’m sure if his name was Fred Smith or something we wouldn’t have heard that kind of line,” he said in reference to associating names with terrorism. “He has that influence in his background, well sure, but you know, everybody has some set of influence in their background.”
Wearing an Ohio State sweater, Clark said in an interview with The Lantern that he initially spoke at the press conference because he was the least injured — and least impacted by the incident.
He said he doesn’t blame Artan’s ideology for inspiring his actions. Instead, he noted the pressure Artan faced in his transition from community college to Ohio State.
“There were some reports on discussions between [Artan] and his academic adviser and counselor, and it would seem to be very clear from those that he was in some academic difficulty and certainly under a lot of pressure, under a lot of stress,” Clark said, referencing the fact that Artan asked his adviser to withdraw him from his courses weeks before the attack. “Those things get forgotten about. Hard to see this guy as a sort of warrior of ISIS, per se.”
Without hesitation, Clark reflected on the attack that shocked the campus community, recalling the “very cold” November day as one would any other: fact after fact, remembering details sporadically, but describing them without any hesitation.
After being hit by Artan’s car, Clark was lying on the ground opposite of where the attacker exited. He didn’t see the potentially traumatizing incidents others did.
What he did see was the side of a Honda Civic that had just struck him and a dispersed crowd of people. He felt pain in his leg and slowly got up, thinking that an accident had just occurred.
“Meanwhile on the other side of the car all of the sudden this commotion breaks out,” he said. “There’s a lot of shouting and noise and stuff.”
Clark didn’t know what was going on until he, along with a few students in the area, headed to the back of Watts Hall.
That’s when he heard gunshots, and said “everything sort of went quiet.”
While in the laboratory, Clark did his best to comfort a woman who was hysterical. It was then that a man told him of his bleeding leg.
“I thought ‘Yeah, it’s probably got scratches on it’ and I’m looking down and it’s pouring blood,” he said, smirking. “I sat down on a chair in there, put the foot up and looked at it as blood was pouring out.”
Just as he put his injured leg up to subside the bleeding, his daughter called to alert him of an incident happening on Ohio State’s campus.
“She said ‘Dad there’s an active shooter in Watts Hall. And I said ‘Yeah, well, I can tell you a story about that.’ I’m sitting here, I got hit by his car,” Clark said. “And so we were chatting away until one of the [emergency medical services] guys said ‘Sir, you really need to take the phone away, we need to take you now.’”
He said he never went into shock the day of the attack, or after.
“It just sort of happened. You get a cut in the leg. It’s bleeding. You get it taken care of,” he said.
Clark canceled class the week of the attack for his students to recover from any emotional or physical trauma they might have endured. But, the following Monday, he was back in Watts Hall teaching and planning lectures.
He still walks past the laboratory where the attack took place, and feels fine doing so.
“I was in it the other day,” Clark said. “In fact, the day after I got released from the hospital and I realized that my laptop and things were still up in the office … My wife drove me around there and parked outside and you know, looking at the marks along the wall, it didn’t seem to have any great traumatic impact.
“You get to a certain age in life where you soak it up and you go on,” he said.
Clark said this Nov. 28 he will meet with FBI officials for a debriefing of any information that arises from the still-open investigation.
“And then I’m going to the Blue Jackets game that night, so that’s how I get to celebrate,” he said, smiling.