We had on my college campus, Gettysburg College, a coffee shop called Uncommon Grounds. I always thought this a really clever name whose meaning held more than just that of an on campus mini-mart. Nestled in a corner of our College Union Building, I often met my friends there for lunch or a quick cup of coffee between classes. During finals, I plunked myself in a corner booth and faded into essays about the Bronte sisters’ impact on English Literature.
I loved to spend my time there; it was a safe little haven where I could decompress. I people-watched all the different groups of kids who passed through…listening to rehashes of parties and regrets mingled with stresses about tests and rigid professors.
Everyone stopped at Uncommon Grounds through the day…our stereotypes distinguished by clothing in Madras and flip-flops, Black and fishnets, sweatshirts and jeans all had similar scattered thoughts as they waited in line or rushed by in a dash to make their 1:10.
This space was the first thing to spring into my mind yesterday when a g-chat box popped up on my computer screen: Did you hear what happened at Gettysburg?
A girl was stabbed this morning off campus…*
Another email pinged in whose subject line have you heard? was all I needed to read. All Facebook status’ updated to thoughts and prayers with Gettysburg. I read a press release, caught links to MSN as the story spread, a little wildfire through the small town. No names had been released.
I called my mom to see if she’d heard anything as she still lives in Gettysburg, my hometown. She’d only just seen it on the news…and didn’t know anything additional except it was on Carlisle Street, a road I’d run down on afternoon jogs, driven through since I first got my license at 16.
Murders don’t happen in Gettysburg – sure we have drugs and robberies, peeping Toms’ and domestic violence, but murders are pretty rare. And this is the first one I know of that broke through the Gettysburg College bubble, that invisible film over the pristine campus community that separates the students from the townies.
Yes – it can happen anywhere – but its effects are equally as trying and devastating when their 5,000 miles away as when they’re in your backyard.
More came to light through the day – I realized when the names were released that the parents probably had to have been notified, one set called to break away from their mundane daily routine to identify their daughter’s body at morgue. The other set called to a jail where they’ll look upon the child they raised for the first as a murderer. Can you imagine?
It was her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend who stabbed her multiple times in yesterday’s morning hours. “Hands were involved,” I read in one statement. While I did not know either student, and will not presume to know motivation, action, choice, I cannot help but wonder how someone can so brutally drain the life from another person. Does he comprehend he’s responsible for this girl never, never graduating, getting married, having kids? Do you think he gets it yet in today’s newly dawned light?
As the afternoon became evening, students were called together in our CUB, walking by familiar solaces like Uncommon Grounds into the Ballroom to hear developments.
Our college president sent this out to students:
April 9, 2009
Dear members of the campus community,
As most of you know, a tragedy occurred earlier today involving two Gettysburg students, and our very tight-knit community is grieving for a loss that has deeply shaken us all.
Until an official statement was released by the Adams County District Attorney at a press conference this afternoon, we had very limited information that we were able to confirm and share. Details from the press conference are now available on our web site. In short, District Attorney Shawn Wagner announced that Emily Rachel Silverstein, 19, a sophomore anthropology major from Roosevelt, N.J., was found dead early this morning at 524 Carlisle Street, an off-campus College-leased residence. Kevin Schaeffer, 21, a senior history major from Oley, PA, surrendered to police at the scene without incident and was taken into custody. The District Attorney announced that the tragedy was a domestic homicide and that at no time were other individuals in any danger.
As I requested when I gathered the on-campus community together this morning, please keep these students and their families in your thoughts and prayers. In addition, I would also ask that you reach out to one another, share your thoughts and your tears, listen to and console one another. Our counseling staff is available to the campus community all day today and in the days ahead at our Health Center. If you would like to talk with a counselor, please stop by. If you have friends who are having a particularly difficult time, please suggest that they speak with a counselor as well. In addition, I would encourage you to respond to all media inquiries by directing them to our Office of Communications and Public Relations.
This loss affects us all. We are a strong, caring community, and in the days and weeks ahead, we will find solace and a source of healing in our communal strength. We will plan an appropriate campus gathering in the near future to help us begin the healing process. For now, I ask that you reach out to one another with great compassion during this difficult time.
Janet Morgan Riggs ¹77
Strangers, acquaintances and friends sat side by side in our CUB and listened to the tragedy of one of their own. It didn’t matter if they knew the victim. In moments of sorrow and loss, things like that are no longer important, you come together as one to support, grieve, and heal. You stand beside each other and cease the frantic rush through your day. You don’t brush by people without thought, you don’t focus on that test, last night, tomorrow. You’re in one moment and in that moment, no matter who you are, you end up finding that common ground and clinging to it.
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