Op-ed: Better safe than sorry

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I went to bed that night, terrified, thinking that there could be a shooting on Lehigh’s campus at any moment. 

We told them he had a gun. 

We told them he was acting unstable. 

We told them we felt unsafe. 

But they told us there was very little they could do.

LUPD recently arrested a Lehigh student in possession of a loaded gun and knife, who was causing a disturbance and threatening officers near Farrington Square.

However, 12 hours before this incident, I was in the room when a frightened individual called the police to report their extreme concern over the erratic behavior of said armed student. They feared that he might harm himself or others.

We did what we had always been told was the right thing to do. If you feel unsafe, you call the police and they will help you. They are there to protect you. It’s been drilled into my mind since childhood.

I’ve always trusted in the institutions that are supposed to keep us safe, but that night I learned that the reality of the system is much more complicated than that.

Powerless.

A paralyzing fear that crept through my entire body as I began to realize that they really weren’t going to do anything about it that night. 

You see it on the news — every few weeks there is a new mass shooting. The threat feels looming, but in an almost unrelatable way. I’ve somehow always felt a twinge of denial, thinking, ‘That would never happen to me.’ 

As I laid in bed that night, wide awake, the one thing that kept running through my mind was the saying, “better safe than sorry.”

When you’re a little kid, you’re told constantly: Always wear your helmet. Always buckle your seat belt. Always look both ways before you cross the street.

But “better safe than sorry” didn’t seem to apply here at all. Instead, when I tried to prioritize my safety, I was left feeling sorry and helpless. 

A lot can happen in 12 hours.

The next morning as I was walking to class, I was more aware of my surroundings than I’ve ever been before. Feeling paranoid and uneasy, I searched the faces of the people passing by, feeling like I had a dangerous secret that I was unable to tell.

I tried to push it from my mind and go about my usual routine. After class, I was crossing the street to go to Saxby’s when I heard someone shouting from down the road. I looked to my left and saw two police officers following a young man.

Immediately, I knew something was off. Chills ran up my spine and I started taking a video on my phone, thinking, ‘This can’t just be a coincidence.’

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all!” he screamed.

Everything slowed down. I stepped inside the door of Saxby’s, my hands shaking as I texted my friends. It was an out-of-body experience.

I watched as the police held up a taser, asking him to sit down. I saw more cops run onto the scene, eventually grabbing hold of him and pinning him to the ground. I couldn’t stop trembling.

It was surreal to see my concerns, that I had drawn on for the past 12 hours, blow up instantaneously, as if we hadn’t warned the police. 

You would think that once he was arrested and the news was spreading like wildfire, I would feel a huge weight off my shoulders. But I was still fragile. And now there was a new weight, a sense that no one fully understood the severity of the situation.  

It’s only been two weeks and I already feel the experience beginning to slip from my mind, my unconscious trying its best to block out the fear. But this isn’t just a freak incident, and it cannot be forgotten. The tragic reality is that situations like this happen every day, and most people aren’t as lucky as we were.

I can’t help but think that if he hadn’t been found in broad daylight when the police were nearby. I can’t help but think about the 400 students who went to bed that night, not knowing that there was a man with a loaded gun in their building. I can’t help but think that I was one of the only few that knew.

They say “better safe than sorry,” and I wish that was proven true. Because it’s been two weeks, and I am still left with the uneasiness that more could have been done. And while university police continue to ensure that campus safety is our first priority, I am left feeling sorry.

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9 Comments

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    “But they told us there was very little they could do.” Potential victims did the right thing what do officials say they are doing to determine what could have been done and will be done next time. Lehigh and the Lehigh community dodged a bullet or two this time.

  2. Concerned (Yet Again) Parent on

    So glad you wrote this. That 12 hours has been weighing on my mind since the news broke. LUPD needs to address what many of us want to know. Why wasn’t there an aggressive effort to find this person in the hours following the phone call? It’s one thing to say that they can’t do much about off-campus burglaries. But the lack of appropriate follow-up to such an urgent and potentially dangerous situation is inexcusable. Please use this incident to call for a review of the facts/time-line and an improved protocol for changes which will ensure that this never happens again. Also, now that Southside Commons is housing a significant number of Lehigh students ( and I think Lehigh has a financial interest in the residence?), LUPD needs to clarify whether it falls within their domain. Otherwise, students living there should know to call Bethlehem police. Thanks for writing such an important expose. Very grateful that everyone is ok,but it could have turned out so differently. As you said, luck was on your side, not the good judgement of the LUPD. Still hard to fathom such a failure on their part.

  3. Concerned (Yet Again) Parent on

    Just to add. . . . .
    You guys need to hold your school accountable in the face of false reassurances, questionable investigations, and empty rhetoric. . . . .Novak. . . . . Loaded guns. . . . ..Reckless disregard for student safety and well-being. Yes, as President Simon et al. said, “We can and we must do better.”
    Can’t wait for my girl to be home safe and sound.

      • Concerned (Yet Again) Parent on

        That’s not what it’s about. One of the great things about Lehigh and its students is they don’t care about those rankings, which are based on ridiculous criteria and manipulated data. Most Lehigh students value intelligence, friendship, innovation, entrepreneurship, meaningful involvement, personal passion and a challenging education — in ways that many students or “excellent sheep” at the highest-ranked schools do not (which I have seen first-hand). The point is they deserve to be doing all of these things in a safe and trustworthy environment. It’s up to both the students and The Administration(!) to ensure such an environment.

        I also wanted to tell Delaney that her article is really powerful as she takes us through that 12 hours, and I’m sorry she had such a frightening experience. I hope the people who are responsible for that experience read her piece so that they can truly understand how terribly they failed her and others.

        • Embarrassed to Be Associated on

          Incidents like this, the Greek life situation that is somehow trashier than that at other top colleges, and the declining caliber of students have contributed to the school dropping from being neatly in the top tier since I graduated.

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