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A Northern Arizona University alumna reacts to the tragic shooting

When the Virginia Tech shooting happened, I was in high school, but I remember watching the coverage like it was yesterday.

Seeing the students run in fear, watching the reporters interview bystanders, breathlessly waiting for an update that identified the gunman… The whole ordeal was terrifying. One year later, the Northern Illinois University shooting happened, leaving six dead. Three years later, I’d attend a major university.

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A few weeks into my first semester at ASU, after the excitement of being a college student in a new city, away from my parents, wore off, I remember sitting in my Sociology 101 class in a lecture hall. A huge lecture hall, mind you. I perked up, sat up in my chair and tapped my pencil on my desk nervously. I inexplicably began thinking about the Virginia shooting. I started thinking about the size of the room, the location of the exits, how I’d get there and what I would do if someone decided to shoot up the class.

I felt crazy. I felt paranoid. But I also felt justified in my thoughts. As someone who continued to see kids my age, maybe a little older, have the guts to shoot their peers, why wouldn’t I be scared? Why wouldn’t I be paranoid? I didn’t tell anyone about these thoughts of mine, though. And in time, my paranoia began to wane off.

A year later, I’d leave Phoenix and attend Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, a place I still consider my home away from home (even if it’s only a five-and-a-half hour drive north from my hometown of Yuma, Arizona). It’s a beautiful, serene, breathtaking mountain college town. It’s a small town where everyone moves just a little slower — a complete 180 from Phoenix, just two hours south. Even the students seemed different to me: more relaxed, a bit more focused. Yes, I chose to leave ASU for NAU for the location, the size of the school, the professors and the people. But I’ll admit, in the back of my head, I thought: There’s no way a school like NAU, in a place like Flagstaff, would ever endure the trauma and horror of a school shooting.

More: Northern Arizona University becomes site of 46th school shooting this year

And then today, Oct. 9, 2015, when I read that a shooting left one dead and three others injured at NAU, my heart broke. My heart broke for the student who died. My heart broke for his or her family. And admittedly, my heart broke realizing something I always kind of knew but refused to believe: School shootings don’t happen at certain schools and at certain times. School shootings don’t just happen at universities and cities or towns across the country or just a few states away. There is no rhyme or reason for why these things happen. You can’t pick up and leave one school that seemed more likely to have something so tragic happen over another. And you can’t go around thinking “this would never happen to me.” This can happen anytime and anywhere.

But… what actions do we take? We ask: How could something like this happen? What’s wrong with these kids? Why do they have a gun in the first place? How was he or she raised? How could something escalate so quickly that it would make anyone think to pull out a gun to resolve the conflict? These kids are my age; didn’t they watch Columbine and Virginia Tech and see how traumatizing these shootings were for the students, the professors and their families? Didn’t it affect them at all?

It’s a helpless feeling. It’s frustrating.

More: Gun violence: Is it time to rethink our bloodiest constitutional right?

And while I don’t have the answers and admittedly don’t know how we can fix this, what I do know is this: This is horrible, and this needs to stop.

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