For the first time in a week, Buddy Monroe and Sami Smith smiled.
They ate dinner together in a crowded East Lansing restaurant. They played games at Pinball Pete’s and they sent selfies to family and friends with the biggest smiles imaginable.
These happy moments were sparked by Spartan Day, a day of dad jokes, hugs, and laughter. Monroe, a 21-year-old junior at State and Smith, a 19-year-old sophomore, needed this after living through the terror of a masked gunman who killed three students and injured five others.
A week ago, Buddy Monroe lay flat on the floor for hours in his Michigan State University on campus housing along a friend. Smith roamed the campus after a late afternoon class. She was blocked from reaching her dorm because of a heavy police presence.
She hung with a group of terrified students near police lines.
Monroe and Smith could hear the gun shots in the distance. They heard the screams of fellow students. Although terror played out around Monroe, he thought he was safe. The killer moved eastward.
Buddy Monroe lay quietly to the west.
Monroe and Smith left for home as quickly as possible after the shootings, seeking the love and warmth of family. Their parents worried because they were eerily quiet during their stay. For Monroe, it was tough for him to watch the stories from East Lansing. He moved away from the family when the memorial services of one of the three slain students played on the television.
The echoes of the gun shots have subsided. The wounds have not. At least not with Buddy Monroe, a junior communications student at MSU.
Another friend who attends Michigan State slept 12-15 hours a day, something he never did before the campus shooting.
While Buddy Monroe lay on his on-campus floor, the soft cackle of police communications played near him. He heard every rumor given to police. Every tip. Then fear turned to terror.
The suspect was in his building, someone said. He listened to every foot step in the hallway. He watched the door knob intently, in case somebody tried to bull rush the barricaded door. He listened for new sounds of gun fire, outside their apartment door.
Fear gripped them for a full 15 minutes as he lived out a real-life version of the movie A Quiet Place.
Then came good news from the cackle of police tips. The report of the shooter being in Monroe’s building were false. He could breathe again.
One problem though. His roommate was missing. It was past midnight now. No sign of his roommate. More concern gripped Buddy Monroe. Where was he? He did not want to call because his roommate could be hiding somewhere, and the chimes of the phone might alert the killer to his whereabouts.
So, he waited. And prayed his roommate was safe.
Midnight turned into the early morning hours. No roommate.
A murder mystery played out in real life. This did not seem real.
Finally, the doorknob began to twist and turn. Buddy Monroe held his breath.
The roommate bounded inside the apartment at around 2 a.m. He had huddled in the back of Target for hours with other frightened students and employees.
Target sits across a busy street from where the shootings began. A decision was made by management. Nobody in. Nobody out.
Friends began texting. Calling. Was Buddy Monroe safe?
Was Sarah Smith safe?
Monroe returned home that day for healing. He did not want to be on campus. Classes were cancelled for the week. They are set to begin Monday. Buddy Monroe was not certain he wanted to return.
Michigan State played Michigan in a nationally televised basketball game Saturday in Ann Arbor. Spartan basketball Coach Tom Izzo believed the game might help people heal and forget. It probably did for most. Not Buddy Monroe. The family encouraged Buddy Monroe to join it in the family room to watch the game. He refused. He was not ready to embrace the Michigan State culture yet. It remained painful because it brought back memories of that night.
The dad was perplexed. His words of encouragement did not seem to work. He wondered at times if his son still loved him. Buddy Monroe wants to seek counseling. Maybe a professional can unlock the demons and send them scattering into space.
One of the joys of having the son back home was listening to late night chatter from his room with friends. Usually there is laughter as they share stories. There was no laughter on this trip home, only the low muffled words of late-night phone calls.
This tragedy is hard for us to process. How do the families who lost loved ones feel? Three students were killed and five wounded in this senseless spree. One of the wounded is a friend of Buddy Monroe’s. He thinks of her every day, along with the schoolmates he did not know.
Buddy Monroe will get through this in good shape. It’s just going to take more time.
Spartan Day helped Monroe and Smith in ways unimaginable. The pain remains. Tears are still being shed for the dead and wounded. But that one day of love helped Smith and Monroe escape that shell of despair.
“I think everyone felt the love; no matter where you were among the line of people,” Meredith Friend, an organizer of Spartan Day told the Detroit News. “You felt the love.”
Photo Credit: © Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal