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Thousands mourn at MSU candlelight vigil

APTOPIX Michigan State Shooting
Al Goldis/AP
FR11125 AP
Mourners attend a vigil at The Rock on the grounds of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Alexandria Verner, Brian Fraser and Arielle Anderson were killed and several other students remain in critical condition after a gunman opened fire on the campus of Michigan State University Monday night. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Crowds of students, faculty and supporters stood together in front of Michigan State University's Spartan statue on the cloudy, windy evening last night. This was just two days after a mass shooting on campus took the lives of three students and sent five to a local hospital in critical condition.

The community turned the site into a makeshift memorial for this week's tragedy. Dozens of supportive signs and bundles of flowers surrounded the figure.

MSU interim President Teresa Woodruff’s 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. We honor them with our march. We honor them with our words and we honor them by lifting our eyes up yet again,” Woodruff said.

The idea for the gathering came from an alumni who suggested the community reimagine the Spartan walk. That’s the march ahead of football games when supporters walk alongside the team to the stadium. The group followed Woodruff and student leaders east toward the vigil. Most wore green and white in solidarity.

The crowd arrived at The Rock, painted over four times since Monday night. Earlier in the day, an artist wrote the names of the three students killed along with the message, “Always a Spartan.”

Pastor Kurt Dwyer, with the Martin Luther Chapel in East Lansing, told 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,” said Dwyer.

Michigan State students gather in wake of shooting

Hours earlier and miles away in neighboring Lansing, students demanded not just prayers, but action. They staged a sit in on the steps of the state capitol and urged legislators to enact laws to make schools safe from gun violence. For MSU student Katie Sundin, the frequency of school shootings and threats in the community is an outrage.

When is enough enough? 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?” Sundin asked.

Back at the vigil, attendees were doing what they could to process what happened. They laid bouquets of flowers that fluttered in the wind beneath the rock. Some lit candles. Others came forward to just kneel, hugging friends for support as they wiped their tears.

Political figures, administrators, and students took to the stage to address a crowd that had grown to thousands. Basketball coach Tom Izzo encouraged everyone to process their trauma in whatever way helps them the most. But to do it together as a community.

Our hearts are heavy. Our losses have been great. Our lives have been permanently changed, but with a shared commitment to help each other. I promise to remember those we have lost. We will learn to find joy once again,” Izzo said.

Students and faculty are scheduled to head back to the classroom on Monday. But for the community, the chaos that seized East Lansing will make the return far from business as usual. Less than two days later, there are conversations about organizing an annual march and a day of remembrance for the tragedy that devastated the campus in East Lansing.

Arjun Thakkar is joining WKAR as a new politics and civics reporter after stints at the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Michigan. He’s also a recent graduate of the University of Michigan.
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