A year to the day after an engineering student was murdered on campus, the Purdue community Thursday attempted to mark the event with a campus-wide moment of silence.
There were some solemn observances – but other areas appeared not to notice the anniversary at all.
Bell Tower Designated As Meeting Place
As the Purdue bell tower announced the arrival of the noon hour, a group of students and staff stood in the cold wind, looking up at the tower’s clock.
A moment of silence turned into a minute. A minute turned to two, then more. The crowd was slow to disperse. Few spoke above a whisper as they thought back to the similarly frigid day a year ago when Andrew Boldt was killed by a fellow student, Cody Cousins.
It was not, as Cousins’ sentencing hearing later bore out in excruciating detail, what might be considered a “typical” school shooting. There was one target, not many. Cousins gave himself up to police immediately after killing the man who’d been his teaching assistant. He also lived to see his day in court – but not long after, taking his own life in a Michigan City jail cell in October.
All that happened in the span of a year. Student body vice president Caroline McKinney stood by herself, silent longer than most in the crowd, pondering the last 12 months.
“I was just thinking about today one year ago and how different this place was and how frightened everyone one was and just the events that occurred," McKinney says. "I just really reflected and I’m thankful that everyone came out and took this moment of silence to reflect.”
“A moment of silence, to me, is: let’s stop the clock for just one minute," says University Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Frank Dooley, who walked through the crowd, talking in hushed tones to McKinney and others. “You can put it in the context of Martin Luther King – the observation of that – as well. It’s another call how important it is for people to stand up for people. And one of the beautiful things about Purdue is when we face tragedy, we often stand up – you see people showing up to help others. And that’s really an important characteristic in all of us.”
A year ago, McKinney and thousands of her schoolmates gathered on the engineering mall for a candlelight vigil in Boldt’s memory. On Wednesday, she marveled at the possibility of getting more than 5,000 students to do anything together. And her assessment seemed oddly prophetic across campus.
Silence Not Heard Everywhere
In the electrical engineering building where the crime occurred, classes passed as normal Wednesday, with nary a pause to commemorate the life lost there a year ago. As noon came and went, it signaled just the beginning of another class period.
But the building was not without its symbols. An anonymous, handwritten card adorned a bouquet of white roses left outside the building. “I miss you and know others do too,” the card read. “I thought to leave you flowers…the least I could do, I guess.”
Students Reflective, If Not Silent
It was lunch hour at the Purdue Memorial Union, and even though Purdue’s dining services had printed notices of the noon observance, there was no quieting of the lunchtime crowd. Still, students remembered Boldt and the year since his death in their own ways.
Chris Soverns, a graduate student in neuroscience, says Boldt’s death has caused him to try to be a little more aware of the human condition.
“So I think that this was mostly a psychological issue more so than a safety issue," Soverns says. "So if anything changed for me, it would be more aware of watching other people – people who are struggling with depression or people who are struggling with questioning things or not making friends. Just looking out for them.”
Katherine Maul, a senior computer engineering major, echoed the feelings of many of her schoolmates in saying she feels the University is much the same today as it was in January of 2014.
“It was scary at first, especially before we knew it was kind of an isolated incident," she says. "I knew a lot of people involved, so watching them go through it was really sad. But otherwise, not a ton has changed.”
Still, Maul says she didn’t begin to get over the effects of the shooting until she was able to leave campus, head home to Illinois, and talk about what happened with family and friends.
“When they heard only one person died, they didn’t think it was a very big deal. So my life felt like I focused on it a lot in the spring semester when it happened, but after going home and no one knew about it over the summer, it kind of left my mind a little more,” Maul says.
How The University Has Responded
Vice Provost Dooley says Purdue officials have addressed security by putting stronger locks on doors to the campus’ two dozen large lecture halls. They also made more grief counselors available Wednesday to those who acutely felt the effects of the anniversary.
There have also been new signs of life sprouting from Boldt’s death: a scholarship in the Milwaukee native’s name has been created to remember his love of competing in Purdue’s annual Grand Prix go-kart race and foster it in others.