Michigan students endure 2 mass school shootings in under 2 years

State leaders call for change in wake of Michigan State shootings

Michigan State University students react during an active shooter situation on campus on February 13, 2023 in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) (Bill Pugliano, 2023 Getty Images)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – It’s an unimaginable, terrifying, life-changing experience that no one should have to go through. And, yet, some students in Michigan have experienced not one, but two mass school shootings in less than two years.

On Monday, Feb. 13, three Michigan State University students were killed and five were critically hurt after a gunman opened fire in two buildings on the East Lansing campus. Less than two years earlier, four students were killed and seven people were injured in the Oxford High School shooting.

Rarely have mass school shootings occurred in the same state more than one time, according to Associated Press reports -- but they keyword here is “mass.” There is no universal term to define a mass shooting; different news outlets, law enforcement agencies and government bodies can all use different definitions.

The Associated Press, for example, defines a mass shooting as when four or more people are shot and killed in a single incident, excluding the shooter. This definition is among the most widely used.

Using the AP’s definition, there have been 14 mass school shootings in the U.S. since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. On that list of schools, the only state to experience more than one mass school shooting is California.

The Gun Violence Archive, however, defines a mass shooting as when four or more people are shot, but not necessarily killed, in a single incident, excluding the shooter. If following their definition -- which we often do in our newsroom -- many more mass school shootings would be added to the list for the past 24 years, including a few in Michigan.

“As the representative of Oxford, Michigan, I cannot believe that I am here again doing this 15 months later,” U.S. Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin said during a Tuesday morning news conference. “I am filled with rage that we have to have another press conference to talk about our children being killed in their schools.

“And I would say that you either care about protecting kids or you don’t. You either care about having an open, honest conversation about what is going on in our society, or you don’t. But, please, don’t tell me you care about the safety of children if you’re not willing to have a conversation about keeping them safe in a place that should be a sanctuary.”

Related: Michigan State University student reflects on surviving 2012 Sandy Hook shooting

The timeline between Michigan’s latest mass school shootings is quite short: The difference between the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting at Oxford and the Feb. 13 shooting at MSU is 471 days.

During that time, an Oxford High School graduate who survived the 2021 school shooting enrolled at Michigan State University. Local 4 on Monday spoke with Andrea Ferguson, whose daughter is in her first semester at MSU. She said she was on the phone with her daughter when she began receiving text message alerts about an active shooter on campus.

“I never expected in my lifetime to have to experience two school shootings,” Ferguson said.

“She had just ended class and hopped on the bus and went across campus and called me, and while we were on the phone, all of the sudden she started getting text messages. It was like reliving Oxford all over again.”

Ferguson said how surreal it was to have to worry about school shootings -- and that, unfortunately, her and her husband knew exactly what to do since they’ve been through this before.

See more: Oxford school shooting survivor on campus during mass shooting at Michigan State University

These tragedies circulate online, in the news, and in our circles at a fast pace. And with that circulation comes demands for action to end gun violence, both from constituents and from politicians. Those demands often take the shape of gun reform policies in an attempt to curb gun violence.

In Michigan, the now-Democratic led legislation was expected to take on gun violence with potential policy changes sometime soon. Their timeline may move up now, after the state witnessed its second high-profile mass school shooting in such a short period of time.

Since the Monday night shooting in East Lansing, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has continued to reiterate that “we cannot accept living like this.”

“This is a uniquely American problem,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Too many of us scan rooms for exits when we enter them. We plan who that last text or call would go to.”

According to gun violence experts, policy is one potential solution that can help address and reduce gun violence in America -- a country where there are more guns than there are people.

Dr. Patrick Carter, director of the Firearm Injury Prevention Center at the University of Michigan, said the key to addressing gun violence is not taking guns away from responsible gun owners, but rather “preventing people who have access who should not.” But policy is not the only solution, just as mass shootings are not the only -- or even most common -- form of gun violence in the nation.

Read more on this here: Mass gun murder in America: What’s behind it, ways to end it

Several options exist that can help reduce and prevent gun violence, including some that prioritize mental health. It is unknown what exactly the Michigan Legislature plans to do in the wake of its second major mass school shooting in two years, but it’s likely that Democrats will be able to pass some measures given their majority.

What is clear, and what you’ll likely hear everywhere in the coming weeks: Something has to change.

Find our complete online coverage of the East Lansing mass shooting here

Related: Data: 1 year after Oxford, mass shootings persist in Michigan, across nation

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.