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Reclaiming Space On UNC Charlotte Campus After Shooting

UNC Charlotte
The J. Murrey Atkins Library -UNC Charlotte

The fall semester at UNC Charlotte has officially begun. Today is the first full day of classes. And for the first time for many students, it’s a return to campus after last semester's deadly shooting. Processing the trauma of the violence that left two students dead and four others injured is different for everyone. For one library staff member, part of his process is helping others come back to campus.

There’s a particular type of quiet that covers a college campus and especially a college library over the summer. It’s the type of quiet that allows for a slower pace and reflection. And it’s a type of quiet Alva Jones, a supervisor at UNC Charlotte’s Atkins library needed.

But he needed to do more than return to the place he experienced fear and anxiety on what was the last day of spring semester classes.

Credit Alva Jones
Alva Jones stands in a hallway where he fled searching for safety during last spring's on campus shooting.

"I took a picture in the hallway that I ran down just to kind of reclaim that space, " Jones said. "That it was somewhere that I felt comfortable, I work here, make this OK for me again."

And that’s what Jones has been doing the whole summer: trying to feel ok again in the space he works and in a building he loves, the library. The day of the shooting he was working on the circulation desk when people began to run and yell.

"Someone came through the door as many people were at that time and yelled that there was a shooter. Then, I just saw people running," Jones said. "My body just reacted. I turned around and ran."

The actual shooting took place next to Atkins in the Kennedy building but there was chaos and confusion that day as people ran.

Jones says at first he hid alone. Eventually he found others who were like him: scared, confused, and not sure where the shooter was. He says they hid together silently until the police came and cleared the space.

At first, he says, it was difficult to stop the automatic replay of fear he felt from that day.

"I think initially something like this, something so negative and violent when that happens, you’re playing it over and over in your head," Jones said. "I was playing it over and over in my head. I didn’t want to." 

Jones says he was encouraged to take time off. But after about four days, he says he was ready to go back to the library.

"For me, the quiet and the opportunity to pare down with my coworkers and hear from colleagues and hear from people that was really good," Jones said. "It might not have been so easy to manage at a time when we were busier but during the summer we’ve had a lot of time to really come together."

But Jones realizes not everyone got to watch campus go from chaos to stillness. On two occasions over the summer, Jones says students came to the library to return items on behalf of others who weren’t ready to come back. Those instances stuck with him. So he’s trying his best to be there for all the students. He’s ready to refer them to campus counseling, to point them in the direction of active shooter training, or to lend a listening ear if that makes sense.

"What we went through was hard. And we’re here to support you," Jones said. "We don’t know in every case what you’re feeling what you’re going through but we’re trying, and we’re here."

While Jones understands why some people may not be ready to come back to the library, he says he always knew he would. He wanted to be a part of what was next.

"Things can happen anywhere. This was something negative that happened here that has never happened before and we hope will never happen again," Jones said. "We are taking efforts to prepare ourselves, mentally, collectively, and I wanted to be a part of that."

Most days, Jones feels at peace in the library. The day of the shooting will always be with him, he says, but it doesn’t dictate how he lives his life, it’s just present in a way. And he’s working on being OK with that which he hopes will help others do the same.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.