When Utica College went into lockdown Monday, Juli Peters sent her mom a text message telling her she loved her.
It seemed “random,” Claudine Peters said of her daughter’s text. But then a few minutes later, Claudine Peters received emails from other family members asking if she had heard about the threats made Monday morning at her daughter’s college.
“Then I love you made sense,” she said. “I immediately called her and she answered very quietly.”
Juli Peters told her mom that someone had knocked on the door during the lockdown and she was terrified. That’s why she sent the text message to her parents, sisters and ex-boyfriend.
“I wanted that to be the last thing they saw,” she said.
It’s hard to read that, even a couple days after the lockdown ended with no one injured and with a suspect having been arrested.
It’s hard to read no matter where it is, but especially when you don’t have to imagine where the students and staff were sheltering in place, where even if you can’t comprehend the fear they must have been feeling (so you won’t even try), it feels like there’s an incident in your home, even when you’re hours away.
When it’s your alma mater.
I opened Facebook at lunchtime on Monday, figured I’d see if any of my friends were doing anything interesting. I saw this instead.
“Please everyone be safe … Please everyone be safe …”
I graduated from Utica College in 1994, when it was still part of Syracuse University (now it’s independent). I’ve gone back several times, but only every few years, since living in eastern and central Massachusetts is close enough for a drive — especially with being able to stop at my parents’ along the way — but far enough to not be a trip I’d make regularly.
If I knew any students there, they would have be the children of people I know, and several of the professors I was closest to have either retired or will be soon.
Although there are quite a few UC grads in Massachusetts, including my buddy Mix, it’s still a surprise when I see one in the wild. It’s not like Boston College grads, who I imagine compare their Eagle stripes when they ecounter each other. (I once worked with someone who was not the coveted “Triple Eagle” because he only went to BC High and BC proper, but not BC Law, but after he pointed out he was an Eagle Scout, I dubbed him a “Double Eagle With a Twist.”)
Yet no time or distance or further changes to the place I attended will change the way I feel about UC, because I did so much growing up there.
It’s where I learned to write, to talk in front of people, even if it was saying crazy stuff.
Even though I did a lot of it wrong, it’s where I learned about existing in a society, an ecosystem different and larger than what I had known all my life — right down to developing the understanding that not doing something so seemingly trivial as holding the door for the person walking behind them through the campus center or the academic buildings could make everything grind to a halt.
It wasn’t a place where I went; it was a place where I was. There’s a big difference.
And that was the place — the place that has meant so much to me and others over the years — that was the place someone allegedly called and threatened.
All afternoon and into the evening, I refreshed Twitter and Facebook, hoping for news that it was over and that no one was hurt or worse.
For most of that time, it was the same news — that the college was on lockdown because of a threat. In a way, that was good news — it meant nothing bad had happened — and I tried to reassure myself that most of these called-in threats to schools turn out to be nothing.
I trusted that police were there, taking care of the students and looking for whoever it was, assuming the person was hiding on campus somewhere.
Of course, I had that luxury. I wasn’t sitting in a classroom wondering what was going to happen to me.
And yes, there were jerks saying ridiculous things on Twitter. The less said about them, the better.
And then it was over.
Students went back to class Tuesday, which the college president admitted may not have been popular.
I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there about the fear people felt, about how hard it was to go back.
And I saw that tweet from Rich Racioppa. He’s the college’s executive director of student success. He’s one of those guys that even if you weren’t friends with him, you probably had a friend who was. I think I played volleyball against him once.
I liked the tweet, quote-tweeted that it was why I loved being an alum.
He followed me.
We’re both Pioneers. Utica College matters to us.
No (alleged) dirtbag on a phone is going to take that away from us.
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