The same summer that Kaelyn Sanders had been researching school shootings as an intern for the Department of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, a gunman shot and killed nine people and injured 27 more just 15 minutes from her home.
Sanders, a fourth-year in criminal justice, woke up Aug. 4 to a news alert on her phone, notifying her that her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, was the next to be impacted by a mass shooting. The gun violence that, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence kills 36,000 Americans per year has left many — including the Ohio State community — questioning what steps can be made to prevent further massacres and ensure the safety of community members.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, Dayton marks the 251st mass shooting in the U.S. in 2019.
“I remember hearing about the El Paso shooting the whole day before, and I woke up and had the news on my phone,” Sanders said. “And I saw this headline, and it was 30 people dead in El Paso and Ohio — Ohio? What are they talking about?”
Sanders said that her mind immediately rushed to friends, relatives, coworkers — anyone she knew who could have been in the Oregon District that night, where suspect Connor Betts reportedly fired an AR-15 assault rifle.
She said a close co-worker was standing in the doorway of Ned Peppers Bar while the shooting took place outside. Luckily, police stopped the shooter before he could enter the establishment.
Despite Dayton being one piece of the puzzle when it comes to mass shootings in the U.S., Sanders said it’s almost impossible to understand the feelings associated with an act of violence until it happens in your own hometown.
“Knowing that people I care about were impacted and traumatized by this event and are going to be for the rest of their lives –– that hurts,” Sanders said.
Sanders said she felt a pang of disappointment that she was in no position to stop the act of violence, despite her research surrounding school shootings. However, she said the incident inspires her to continue her research so she can prevent events such as Sandy Hook, El Paso and Dayton from repeating themselves.
“It’s not only become just an interest, but now it’s become personal because it happened in my hometown,” Sanders said. “It’s another motivation for me in a way to really want to find something that we can do to stop this or to make it not as bad.”
University Spokesperson Dan Hedman said in an email that the safety of Ohio State students is the university’s No. 1 priority, and several safety measures are employed in case of an active shooter on campus.
“The Ohio State University Police Division’s (OSUPD) officers undergo active shooter training on an annual basis, and our Special Response Team receives additional training for various emergency situations. We continually assess our practices and protocols to ensure we are following best practices,” Hedman said.
Ohio State’s Department of Public Safety also released a Surviving an Active Shooter video in 2015 and a subsequent Surviving an Active Aggressor in 2018 to inform the campus community of what to do in those instances. Hedman said the videos expand on the concept of “run, hide, and fight.”
If the best option is to run, you should dial 911 to describe your location as soon as you are safe, according to the videos. The videos also provide tips on barricading interior doors if the only alternative is to hide.
On the other hand, if running or hiding is not possible, the videos explain that the last resort is to fight. You should find objects in the room to disorient the aggressor, dispose of the weapon and then swarm the attacker until police arrive.
“Whatever option a person chooses is dependent on the information they have available at the time and their proximity to danger,” Hedman said.
Hedman said Ohio State Emergency Management operates a Buckeye Alert system to inform the campus community in the case of an emergency, most commonly in the form of text messages.
He said that the first alert issued is typically generic, but as Ohio State Police obtain more information, updates about the situation will be released.
While studying school shootings over the summer, Sanders said it’s important to report any warning signs you might see in a person, regardless of your relation to the person.
“If you hear something, say something. Report it. That’s the best you can do,” Sanders said. “Even if you think the person might get mad, it’s better that they get mad than something happen.”
Hedman said that if you see something suspicious, you should call the non-emergency number for University Police at 614-292-2121 or Columbus Police off campus at 614-645-4545.
Sanders said that instead of living our lives in fear, communities throughout the country must come together to address gun violence and ask, “What can we do as a community to prevent this or at least make it less deadly?”
“We still gotta come back stronger than ever because we can’t change what happened. It happened, so let’s remember the victims for who they were, what they brought into this world and help each other out,” Sanders said.