Home Culture An International Student on Lockdown During the Shooting in Lewiston, Maine

An International Student on Lockdown During the Shooting in Lewiston, Maine

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Alan Wang, a twenty-one-year-old from the Henan Province of central China, had never seen a gun before he moved to the United States—not even one attached to a police officer. When he was leaving home to attend Bates College, a liberal-arts school in Lewiston, Maine, his grandmother warned him not to go out on weekends; she had been reading about the increase in mass shootings in the U.S. and was concerned that he would be shot. He told her that the U.S. was safe, and that Chinese state media was exaggerating the gun-violence problem to make America look bad.

Two days ago, the worst mass shooting in Maine’s history—and the deadliest in the United States this year—occurred in Lewiston, when a gunman opened fire at a local bowling alley, and then a bar, killing eighteen people and injuring thirteen more. The shootings were just a couple of miles away from the Bates campus, and the school went into lockdown, along with the rest of Androscoggin County. The suspect, Robert Card, has not yet been caught, and a manhunt—involving local and state police, federal agents, and the Coast Guard—is under way. As of Friday afternoon, county residents and Bates students are still sheltering in place.

Wang, a political-science major, who is now a senior, was at a campus political forum when the lockdown orders came in. He told me about his experience as an international student encountering a uniquely American phenomenon—a mass-shooter alert. His account has been condensed and edited.

“I learned about the shooting around 8 P.M. on Wednesday. I was heading to Pettengill Hall, one of our largest academic buildings. In the basement, Bates College Democrats were planning to host some local Democratic candidates for the upcoming mayoral, school-committee, and city-council elections. The plan had been to have the candidates come to the school and have a conversation with students. I had been planning to ask the mayor some questions about gun violence, because I saw him address the issue in an interview with the Bates student newspaper.

“As I approached the academic building, I saw the mayor outside. I was curious: Why was he outside the building when there’s supposed to be an event happening in the basement? I waved at him, and I walked down to the basement. That’s when I was told that the meeting was cancelled, and there had been an active shooting, and everybody should stay indoors.

“Initially, I was planning to walk back to my dorm because I hadn’t heard of any casualties. But I was stopped by some other students who told me that there had been casualties and that there was an order to stay inside. I stayed in the basement from eight until ten-forty-five. We were projecting CNN on the wall—all of us were just sitting there and staring into the projector, watching this. And then I walked back to my dorm with a couple of students who also live there. We decided that it was too late and we needed somewhere we could sleep. In the basements, students were sleeping on the floor already. So we walked back to our dorm as a group.

“Walking outside was terrifying, because I was literally thinking in my brain, Where should I run if I hear gunshots? It’s something I never thought I would even think about. There is a main thoroughfare we have to cross to get to my residential hall, and—because it’s a wide-open road with very few trees and very little cover—when I was walking across the crosswalk, I just thought I was going to die, and I had to run to stay out of open areas.

“Since then, I have not left my dorm at all. On Thursday, we got an e-mail from the school about food on campus. Because all of the employees were told not to return to campus, including essential employees, our cafeteria situation was a concern. So they told us that we should go to dining halls during designated periods of time—you have twenty minutes to eat your lunch and then five minutes to walk back. But, personally, I just made ramen because I didn’t want to go outside.

“I’m not from Beijing or Shanghai like most other Chinese students. I’m from Henan Province. It’s a very—well, by Chinese standards—small city. I decided to come to the U.S. because I went to an international high school, and the Chinese education system was not a good fit for me. I came here because the education system is more liberating.

“Can I emphasize something? As an international student, I was shocked. I was angry at the school for not properly teaching us how to respond—we’ve never had drills. Maine is a very safe state and has a relatively low crime rate. I don’t think Bates ever thought that a mass shooting would occur in such close proximity. (A Bates spokesperson said all incoming students are required to watch a video explaining steps to take in the event of a mass shooting as part of their first-year orientation forms.)

“Last night, I was preparing to walk outside the academic building, feeling like the alert was no big deal, when American students stopped me and told me to stay indoors. I realized how inadequately I’m educated and trained when it comes to this type of situation. As an international student, I was never taught the correct response, which is to run, hide, and fight. I did not know this until last night. When I saw how my American peers reacted and how I reacted, the contrast just blows my mind.

“After deciding to go to college in the U.S., people in China would say to me, ‘Why are you risking your life going to this country?’ The U.S. is rendered in the Chinese media as this crazy place with mass shootings every day, and little to no government control and intervention. I’ve always told people ‘No, that’s just a stereotype and a misconception, you know? I’m fine. My life is not in danger. We are safe. Stop worrying about me. Stop worrying about me going to a country that seems unsafe because, drawing from personal experience, it has been safe.’ But, now, I’m not so sure.” ♦

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