A few days ago, I was sitting in the FAC studying when the campus-wide alert system went off. It was a scheduled test, but I immediately froze. No one around me even looked up, but it triggered a powerful memory for me, and I felt an immediate shock of cold fear. Midway through my first semester of college, I woke to the then-foreign sound of those same sirens blaring outside. I checked my phone and saw a text from the UT emergency alert system: there was an active shooter at the PCL. I was safe in my locked-down dorm, I knew that. But I stared out the window towards the PCL across campus and shook.
My floormates and I sat on the ground in the hall, a few of us crying, all of us furtively checking Twitter for updates. No one knew what was happening. Rumors circulated by the media, the police and our classmates misinformed and confused us. I texted all my friends who were in class on that side of campus that morning. I prayed, hard, and I never pray. Eventually, the news came in that the shooter was no longer active. No longer active because he had shot himself in the library. Lock-down was lifted, and everyone from my dorm streamed into the street. The mood was weirdly exuberant. The conversation revolved entirely around the shooting. How fortunate that no one died, that no one was hurt, people kept saying.
Colton Tooley was nineteen when he died on September 28, 2010. He was mentally ill, and as a result of that illness, he intended to harm his fellow students. This is inexcusable, deplorable, and tragic. It is incredibly fortunate that he did not succeed in his plan, and I am in no way minimizing that fact. But to say that no one died in the PCL shooting is false. As evil as his actions were that day, Tooley was a student too, and his death was a loss.
We need to talk about mental illness. By “we” I mean every single one of us, and by “talk” I mean regularly. It is our responsibility as friends, sisters, brothers, girlfriends, boyfriends, teachers, teammates. Ask someone how they’re doing, how they’re feeling or how they’re dealing with stress. Then listen. When someone asks you how you’re doing, don’t just say “I’m fine,” even when you’re not. Talk to your friends, and trust them to listen. And when someone needs you, listen without judgment. We can create a culture where it’s okay to talk about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, and we need to.
Whenever I hear those campus-wide sirens, I remember Colton Tooley and the fear I felt on that morning in September. My heart rate rises, and my throat closes up the way it does when you’re trying not to cry. It’s Suicide Prevention Week. Take the time to attend one of the many events programmed, or at least take the time to ask someone how they’re doing.
McClure is a Plan II senior from Houston.