The last time Madison Dobrzenski remembers campus feeling this empty was April 30, 2019.
It’s painful day to remember for UNC Charlotte students like Dobrzenski. It’s the day that a gunman took the lives of Riley Howell and Reed Parlier and injured four others, Drew Pescaro, Emily Houpt, Rami Al-Ramadhan, and Sean DeHart.
Dobrzenski was in the Popp Martin Student Union when her phone buzzed with text messages from members of the Niner Times, the university’s newspaper, where she serves as editor-in-chief.
There had been a shooting.
Campus locked down, no one was allowed in or out. Dobrzenski stayed in the student center for four hours. She remembers how quiet it was, no chatter. No music. Just the sounds of television reporters talking about their campus, talking about students like them.
When she left the building late that night, campus was silent, a stark contrast to the sirens and news reports of hours earlier.
She could see into a classroom where a PowerPoint presentation was still displayed on the screen. Water bottles were left behind and books were open on desks. The lights were on, but rooms were vacant.
The next day, students filled campus once again. They exchanged hugs, cried together, and gathered outside of Halton Arena and chanted “For-ty Nin-ers!”
Students left flowers and candles on the steps of Kennedy Hall and next to the 49er Miner sculpture.
Commencement arrived just 10 days later, an occasion that was both mournful for the lives affected by the shooting and also celebratory for the graduating seniors.
There wasn’t a moment that wasn’t hard, but at least the campus could be together.
Now, during a global pandemic, UNC Charlotte’s campus is quiet once again.
“People didn’t leave in as much of a rush, but the emptiness is similar,” Dobrzenski says. “It’s a very somber feeling.”
Like college students around the world, UNC Charlotte students are home, finishing up the semester with distance learning.
At UNC Charlotte, a remembrance event for today will now be held virtually. “United: A Remembrance Program” will start at 5:10 p.m. and will be available to stream live on the university’s website and on Facebook.
“It’s definitely hard to be approaching this anniversary, probably the worst day of my life and I wasn’t even in the room, and not be able to be with my friends and not be able to go to the newsroom,” Dobrzenski says.
“I wish I could put flowers on Kennedy’s steps with other people.”
Feature photo by Chris Crews.