BALTIMORE, MD. — Less than 24 hours after videos showed SWAT officers raiding dorm rooms following a shooting during homecoming week, Morgan State University’s campus was eerily quiet.
By then, classes had been canceled, with no arrests made. And, at the scene where the triggers were pulled, any evidence of the previous night’s violence had vanished.
But for the few students on campus Wednesday afternoon, there was a sense of unease and confusion.
“I don’t feel like I could just freely just be anywhere. I have to watch more, and I have to be more cautious,” Sa’Niyah Johnson told Capital B.
“I love the school. I love Morgan,” Johnson said. Still, thoughts of transferring bubble up for her. She wonders if switching schools would soothe her anxiety. But a shooting can happen anywhere, she said.
For Morgan State, this week’s shooting was the third in three years during homecoming week. It’s a trend that tracks alongside the United States’ growing gun violence epidemic, one that experts are treating more and more as a public health crisis. Baltimore city officials and advocates are calling for federal policy aimed at addressing violence’s root causes.
Students are also frustrated that no one has been caught, especially with the police department nearby. They also questioned if the raid was excessive because it’s a historically Black university, and confusion spread given the school’s lack of updates in the shooting’s aftermath. Along with threats of physical safety, it all culminates in mental health effects that can look like post-traumatic stress disorder or heightened anxiety, experts say.
“A growing number of students are collecting diplomas against the echoing backdrop of gunshots, replacing memories of academic triumphs and youthful camaraderie with trauma,” said Amber Goodwin, founder of Community Justice Action Fund, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence in communities of color.
The school’s homecoming festivities have been canceled or postponed until “the perpetrators of this atrocity have been found and brought to justice,” David K. Wilson, the university’s president, said in a statement Wednesday. And, Baltimore police released surveillance video from campus of what appears to be three men who were in the area at the time of the shooting. Classes will also be canceled for the remainder of the week.
It was unclear whether most students had gone home after the shelter-in-place order was lifted, or settled in their dorm rooms. A stillness swept across the campus — so much so that the wind chilling the 80-degree weather could be heard knocking against the Maryland state flag by the student center.
The night before, at least two people opened fired after a dispute broke out following the annual coronation ceremony for Mister and Miss Morgan State, which was held at the school’s art center. Attendees scattered in fear. The gunshot victims, four men and one woman ages 18 to 22, are expected to survive. Four are university students.
In a previous statement, Wilson, who attended the coronation along with hundreds of students and faculty, said he is disappointed by the violence that has plagued the campus. He understands that parents and students may be concerned.
“Morgan State University, rest assured, it is going to move forward and would not be deterred in our momentum here,” Wilson said at a press conference Wednesday morning.
‘It was scary’
Johnson and her friends Cinque Dominique and Emoni Mosley usually hang out outside the cafeteria, which is next to the building where the shooting took place. But, after Tuesday, they say they are too afraid to go.
“I really thought it was fireworks,” Mosley said to her friends. “It was the reason I came outside [of my dorm] and I saw everybody running.”
“It was scary. I heard a girl screaming and it just broke me,” Dominique responded.
Jaylin Gardner had just finished eating dinner at the cafeteria, next to where the shooting took place, when she looked out the glass windows and saw people running. Immediately, students began to panic, she said, and ducked underneath tables until the cafeteria workers directed everyone to a back room.
Anxious, she didn’t know exactly what was going on, but she did know a shooter was on campus. Hours later, when she got to her dorm, she couldn’t sleep knowing the shooter had not been captured.
Although Gardner didn’t know the best solution to prevent this from happening in the future, she thought security officers should patrol more.
“They have all these blue [emergency] poles [throughout campus] that we just touch and it calls the campus police, but I feel like there should be smaller hubs stations for campus police and security to be around physically on campus,” said Gardner, who’s a first-year student. She’s yet to experience homecoming and is sad something like this could unfold on campus.
“Black and brown students, no matter where they study, face disproportionate threats to their safety,” said Goodwin with the Community Justice Action Fund. “For any community, the sound of violence is haunting, but repeated incidents like this week’s tragic shooting at Morgan State, create deep layers of trauma that transcend immediate fear. It’s essential that we address these not as isolated incidents, but as a symptom of a broader public health crisis.”
An uphill battle to disrupt gun violence
How trauma impacts mental health can lead to more violence, said Monique Williams, the executive director of CURE Violence, an intervention program working to reduce shootings by treating violence as a disease. When individuals are exposed to gun violence, it can spark a cycle of repeated violence unless they are able to heal the emotional wounds that trauma has left.
“That trauma doesn’t just belong to the individuals that got hurt,” she added. “That trauma belongs to those that they are in relationship with, those who may have been a witness or loved this person or just know this person. That trauma also impacts people in the community who are now fearful it may happen to them.”
It’s important to look at broad social factors and community conditions like systemic racism and economic inequality when discussing gun violence, said Mighty Fine, director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Professional Development at the American Public Health Association. He’d like to see more focus on solutions that soften the blow of traumatic experiences, such as increased community support through mentorship and after-school programs. The idea is to have a strong social support system that can prevent violence and also help community members in the aftermath of a shooting.
“What we need to do is interrupt the cycle,” he said.
Fine, and other organizations, are urging policymakers to invest in solutions such as street and hospital-based interventions, job training, housing support, and financial assistance, which they say address the root cause of violence.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said that despite the removal of more than 2,100 guns from Baltimore streets and a decrease in homicides and shootings, this incident is an example of the gun violence epidemic that needs action on a national and federal level.
“We have to deal with this issue nationally. It has to be done the same way we got serious about people dying from cigarette cancer. The same way we got serious about people dying in car accidents and we mandated seat belts. We have to get serious about guns — we have to, or if not, we’re going to continue to have this same conversation over and over and over again,” Scott said. “When will the sanctity of American lives and the sanctity of American college students, and students who get their education, outweigh the sanctity of American guns?”
Reporter Christina Carrega contributed to this report.