TRIGGER WARNING: Gun Violence
On February 13, 2023, a mass shooting occurred in two buildings on the Michigan State University (MSU) campus in East Lansing. Three students were killed, and five others were injured. The gunman, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when police confronted him off campus.
The attack at the large university located in East Lansing, Michigan, was the 67th mass shooting in 2023, according to gun violence data, and came just hours before the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
These horrible situations also affect Vietnamese international students, who come to America hoping to pave a path for a better future. Van Anh, an International Business student at Michigan State University, witnessed it all, and she knows she will never recover from it.
This is Van Anh’s story, as told to Thien Cuc.
February 13 seemed like another typical day at school. The Marketing Association team and I celebrated Valentine’s Day with some cake and a fun life talk in the College of Business building.
When I was about to leave, my roommate texted that she heard gunfire. A few minutes later, I received an email blast from the school about an active shooting on campus. All students were told to stay as far as possible from the school premises or stay hidden where we were. If there were no other way, we would have to fight.
I felt my body tremble, negative thoughts racing inside my mind. I was scared — probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life.
My friends and I tried to lock the classroom door. But alas, the lock didn’t work. We had to use all tables to block the only entry and exit way we got. There were seven international students with me — all of us couldn’t fully comprehend what was going on. While hiding in the room, I received a lot of messages from my classmates asking, “Where are you?”, “Were you able to escape?”, or if I was in a safe place.
We could hear the police notifying us of the gunman’s location through a megaphone. I felt both terrified and numb when I heard he was near my building. Will he find us? Will he shoot us? Is this how my life was meant to end? What will happen to my parents back in Vietnam?
Oh, my parents. I was constantly texting them even when I couldn’t feel my fingertips. I told them I was hiding with other groups of international students and that I was somehow safe.
After four long, horrifying hours, the police came and led us out of the university. I immediately broke down into tears when I was brought back to the dorm. Those were tears of relief, of trauma, and of pain. What I’ve been seeing on the news about America finally happened to me. Was coming here the right decision?
I thought about the students who died and got injured — I thought about the bright future they were working so hard for. They deserve to live and pursue their dreams.
I asked, “What if it was me? What if I got shot?” Thinking about what could have happened to me brought me to tears. It still does.
Then, I also thought about the life of international students like me. We have sacrificed a lot just to get here, only to be confronted with dangers that could cost us our lives. Honestly, I thought about going back to Vietnam immediately after that. But I had dreams I badly want to achieve, I couldn’t give them up.
Days after that terrifying day, I saw hundreds of flowers and candles offered by students and East Lansing residents. I saw people crying, praying, and holding up “Enough is enough” signages. School officials gave us notes of encouragement; many teachers told us they’d welcome us with open arms should we want to talk.
Even when I was still processing everything, I went back to my daily routine at school. The atmosphere was depressing, but I saw everyone trying to act normal. It was a heartbreaking sight — what was once a vibrant campus filled with talented, passionate, and happy students has now been tainted with a history we’ll never move on from.
Understanding the hard time that many MSU students were suffering, I created a small design of a collection of all the encouraging messages that I have received from classmates and friends. These words comforted me in that dark moment, and I hope that by sharing these with others, they, too, would feel comforted.
Life in the US is very difficult for international students like me. Besides gun violence, there are threats that we face on a daily basis, including racism and mistreatment. These may not be fatal in most ways, but these leave us emotionally and psychologically scarred.
I’ve experienced people looking down on me because I’m Asian and I’m a girl. I couldn’t join school club activities or participate freely in some projects because of who I am. There have been days when I suffered worse.
However, despite many challenges, I know that I have to keep fighting for my goals here. The obstacles may seem endless and inconquerable — and sometimes, unfortunately, fatal, I want to believe that there are good days, too. And that better days are coming.
I plan to finish my Master’s Degree in the US while gaining as much experience as possible before coming back to Vietnam. As I’m studying International Business now, I want to work in different countries after graduating and become a knowledgeable, well-traveled individual.
But while I have set my sights on these big goals, I know the future remains uncertain. None of us ever predicted that a man would come to the university with a gun. I want to extend sympathy to everyone at Michigan State University and to all victims of mass shootings. You are not alone. Let us keep fighting for our dreams and hopes. Let us not be crippled by fear.
May we all heal from this painful experience.