A difficult day of emotions on FSU campus following deadly shooting

Florida State University students gather at Landis Green for a prayer service on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 after an overnight shooting at the campus library in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida State University students gather at Landis Green for a prayer service on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 after an overnight shooting at the campus library in Tallahassee, Fla. TNS

As more than a thousand students gathered for a candlelight vigil Thursday, Florida State University President John Thrasher vowed a return to normalcy in the wake of a campus shooting that rocked the state.

“We’re going to get to the point where we do not allow any individual to divide us, to conquer us, and to make us anything less than what we are, and that is Florida State University Seminoles,” Thrasher said.

Classes, which had been cancelled Thursday, will resume Friday, Thrasher said. And the library, where the gunman was killed by police and three others were wounded, will be open.

The vigil marked the end of an emotional day for FSU students. Hundreds were in the library at about 12:30 a.m. when the gunman opened fire. The shooting caused chaos on campus, and set off a firestorm on social media.

Later that morning, shell-shocked students gathered on the lawn outside the library. There was a moment of silence, then a somber Seminole war chant. Strangers clasped hands and formed a massive prayer circle.

Junior Tori Reiman, from Jacksonville, was among the first to speak.

“I pray, God, that you will make the students on this campus brave,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.

Even later in the day, many students found comfort on the library lawn. They gathered there throughout the day, scanning their social media feeds and chatting with friends.

Senior Samantha Markey, a 24-year-old psychology major from New York, said she needed to be surrounded by her peers.

“It’s weird to be drawn to this spot,” she said. “It is a tragic place.”

Tim O’Hara, a 20-year-old junior from Davie, milled about with his skateboard, recalling the night’s events with friends and strangers.

It still felt unreal, he said. Hours earlier, he was studying finance in the library when he heard what sounded like fireworks. He ran outside and stood in a cluster of students, until a second volley of gunfire prompted them to scramble.

O’Hara took off on his skateboard.

“It was one of the most intense things I have ever witnessed,” he said.

Other students were anxious to leave campus.

Steven Donovan, a 19-year-old sophomore, stopped by the library late Thursday morning to pick up the backpack and a power cable he had left behind during the shooting.

Donovan said he was going home to Bradenton.

“Classes are cancelled,” he said. “I just want to not be here.”

Freshman Christie Valentin-Bati, of Hollywood, spent the entire night checking up on her friends through Facebook and Twitter. She tried to reach as many as possible.

“We don’t know who is in the hospital,” she said. “That’s the worst part. I’ve texted everyone I know.”

Ashley Serfozo, a junior from Cocoa Beach, said she hadn’t slept since she heard the sirens around 12:30 a.m. She was at her home off campus.

“I was considering going to the library,” Serfozo said. “Thank God I didn’t.”

For some, an already incomprehensible situation was made worse upon learning the shooter was an FSU alumnus. Authorities identified Myron May, a 2005 graduate, as the gunman.

“I want to know why it happened and how we can prevent it,” said Markey, a psychology major.

FSU had a town hall on coping strategies Thursday afternoon. The university also made therapy dogs available at the counseling center.

At the vigil, Student Government President Stefano Cavallaro urged his classmates to look forward.

“In the days to come, we will build from this tragedy, remembering our spirit is always unconquered,” he said.

The students cheered when the marching band played the war chant — and then honored Thrasher’s pledge by returning to their dorm rooms.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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