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Shootings Another Shock For 'Turbulent Generation'

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At age 22, Aaron King already sounds world weary. A senior at the University of Arizona, King says that the recent shootings in Tucson brought back memories of other traumatic events.

Today’s students either were just starting college or finishing high school when Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 people before committing suicide.

“If you go back to something like Columbine, that happened while we grew up,” King says. “We’re part of a turbulent generation.”

For University of Arizona students, last Saturday’s shootings have hit very close to home. Their school has played host to much of the aftermath. The start of the spring semester was delayed so that the basketball arena could accommodate Wednesday’s memorial event, which brought President Obama to campus.

Doctors and nurses at the University Medical Center have been treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other gunshot victims at the same end of campus where a failing nursing student killed three of his professors before turning his gun on himself in 2002.

As spring semester classes got under way Thursday, the recent shooting was much on everyone’s minds. Professors wrestled with the question of how -- or whether -- to discuss it in class. Some students were upset enough to question whether they should be making any effort. Others wanted to bear down and start focusing on their schoolwork.

Many, like King, expressed dismay that violence had intruded so closely on their lives. “This one is more personal because it’s just so local,” says Jamie Ratner, a law professor. “There’s just this collective sort of shock mode.”

School Pride And Local Bonding

Some students expressed a sense of pride about their university’s response to the shooting. Regardless of their politics, they understood the symbolic importance of the president appearing at their school. A few were pleased that Obama had pointed out that John Roll, the slain federal judge, was a graduate of the university and its law school.

Many shared in the widespread admiration for Daniel Hernandez, a junior at the university and Giffords intern who stepped up to nurse her in the crucial moments after she was shot.

“The shooting really did bring people together,” says Tenzing Tunden, a 20-year-old accounting major.

Tunden was among the small number of students Thursday wearing the “Together We Thrive” T-shirts that had been handed out at the memorial the night before. Because that event was held on campus and had been heavily attended by students, it helped break down the usual barriers between the university community and local Tucson residents, whom students sometimes refer to derisively as “T-Locs.”

“Rather than unifying the campus, it really unified the campus with Tucson in a way that wouldn’t normally happen,” says Mike Rothschild, a 22-year-old senior. “Everyone’s going through the exact same thing right now.”

Uncomfortably Close To Home

Signs outside a few campus buildings offer valet bike parking. Nearly every door offers a reminder that “this campus is a weapon-free zone.”

Jimmy Leyva, a 21-year-old business economics major, grew up two hours southeast of Tucson in the border town of Douglas. He was struck that Jared Loughner, the accused shooter, is 22 and had been a student at nearby Pima Community College.

“This was a person my age, a person who went to Pima,” Leyva says. “There’s definitely an air of, like, ‘Oh, man, are we still safe?’ ”

Following the Virginia Tech massacre, most colleges changed their security procedures. It’s not yet clear what new steps, if any, will be taken to respond to disturbed students.

Like Leyva and other students, Katy May Goodson found Loughner’s mug shot and Internet ramblings disturbing. Goodson, a 27-year-old art major, says she feels no less safe than she did a week ago, before the shootings took place. A friend of hers was killed by a shot to the head last summer, so she already knew that Tucson is not immune to gun violence.

Still, Goodson notes some reminders that this latest killing spree struck uncomfortably close to home. A friend of hers went to high school with Loughner, she says.

“My boyfriend works at Albertson’s, so it’s kind of weird that it happened at a grocery store.”

A Bad Sense Of Deja Vu

For Rachel Johnston, it was a shock that such a thing could happen in her college town. “Tucson is not the last place you’d think this would happen,” she says, “but it almost is.”

Johnston, who has a triple major in the humanities, was home in New Jersey when the shootings occurred. She spent the next three days glued to the television set. “I was with my best friend,” she says. “We looked at each other -- our country is in mourning again.”

Johnston was 12 when her private school pulled out all the students with parents who worked at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Johnston spent some anxious moments worrying about father before learning that, unbeknownst to her, he had safely left that morning on a business trip.

Nine years later, Johnston again faced the reality that attacks against the innocent can brush up closely against her own life. Violence can happen anywhere, but where it happens matters.

“It was shocking hearing about that 9-year-old girl being shot, and all those people,” she says. “That’s where I bought my TV set.” Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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