ONE YEAR LATER: ‘We want a safe place’

Three doors down from the end of the street, a house on 36th Avenue sits quietly, undisturbed.

A takeout menu is wedged in the screen door. A few pieces of mail stick out from the mailbox. Broken boxes lie in a pile on the front stoop.

Strips of torn caution tape that read “Fire line do not cross” hang from a downspout and a broken wooden fence leading into the backyard.

Neighbors said no one appears to live there anymore, not after what happened one year ago.

In the backyard of the two-story house on 36th Avenue, gunfire broke out at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2013. University graduate student Dayvon Maurice Green, 23, shot two of his roommates, killing 22-year-old Stephen Alex Rane and injuring then-22-year-old Neal Oa, before turning the gun on himself.

“As we found out in fact, it was our students — all three,” University Police Chief David Mitchell said. “I don’t remember specifically how I became aware. One of my commanding officers calling me, and the commanding officers from District 1 [Prince George’s County Police] calling me to tell me they were on the scene. They had the same questions we did. How do you sort through that? Just a terrible, terrible tragedy.”

Early that February morning a year ago, a few shots across the street rang out like fireworks, said Isabel Shargo, a senior environmental science and policy major.

“I had never heard gunshots before,” Shargo said. “It was super startling — there were like eight in a row.”

About five minutes earlier, Shargo said, she was smoking a cigarette outside her house on 37th Avenue, unable to fall asleep. After she went inside and heard gunshots, firetruck sirens began to fill the air.

Shargo and her roommate looked out a bedroom window as cop cars and ambulances arrived at the house one street over.

Must be a fire, they decided as they stared out the window. Shargo started to drift off. It was late, and it was a school night. Any news could wait until morning.

Shortly before 1:30 a.m., University Police sent out email and text safety alerts regarding an off-campus shooting. In the morning, Shargo and her roommates read the alerts and saw a news van parked in front of their house.

Throughout the day, county and University Police released more information about the shooting that happened one street over. Green had a 9 mm handgun, a semi-automatic Uzi with multiple magazines, a baseball bat and a machete.

“I don’t know what his plans were, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know what his plans were,” Mitchell said. “I can only imagine had he come down onto campus armed the way he was.”

And there was fire: Police said Green set a fire in the backyard at about 1 a.m. to attract his roommates’ attention and bring them outside before he shot them.

“They were just random roommates. I was living with random roommates. I just found them online,” Shargo said, standing in her kitchen nearly a year later on Feb. 7. “It was super coincidental and ironic and so sad.”

The landscape of campus security has changed in the wake of shootings such as the February 2013 murder-suicide and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Mitchell said. In 2013, there were 28 shootings at educational institutions across the country, University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said. Since Jan. 1, there have been seven.

One of the takeaways from the Virginia Tech shooting, Mitchell said, was the need to notify the university community of a threat, whether it’s through an application such as the university’s SOS app, safety notices or sirens.

The other major change has been how police handle active shooter situations. Years ago, police practiced “contain and negotiate” drills to contain a shooter until a SWAT team arrived on the scene. Now, University Police go in with the equipment they have, Mitchell said, and they rehearse scenarios in which they take immediate action to clear a threat.

In the fall, University Police also expanded its jurisdiction farther off-campus, which Student Government Association President Samantha Zwerling called a positive step for the university community’s relationship with the city.

“Allowing the University Police, who deal a lot more with students, to expand their jurisdiction is important for situations to be dealt with appropriately,” Zwerling said. “College students can be a more unique population than the regular Prince George’s County residents.”

One of the biggest goals of campus security improvements is to teach students that they should report any threats that concern them, Mitchell said. It’s difficult to stop an active shooter, he said, but there are opportunities for intervention along the way.

“They’re good folks who did not deserve what happened to them, and we mourn them,” Mitchell said. “When one of them dies here, in many ways, a piece of all of us dies. … I care very, very much. We all do. Our children come here. We want a safe place.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, police reported that Green had suffered from a mental illness and had been taking medication for at least a year.

The university already was pushing for increased funding for mental health services, said Sharon Kirkland-Gordon, counseling center director. In April 2013, university officials announced a decision to spend an extra $5 million over the next 10 years to add health center and counseling center staff and address issues such as long wait times for counseling services.

The shooting was a wake-up call, Zwerling said, a call to invest more in these resources and to clarify the services available to students, faculty and staff.

“We need to create a culture on our campus where people do feel safe but also feel like they can get mental health resources if they need it,” Zwerling said. “It’s OK to need help.”

The stigma around mental health issues remains an issue that people struggle with, Kirkland-Gordon said.

Though the university’s counseling and mental health service centers have since seen shorter wait times and University Police have increased their jurisdiction, university President Wallace Loh said he feels more must be done.

“There’s a combination of factors of investing resources in a very targeted way that could perhaps reduce the incidence of these kinds of senseless killings in the future,” Loh said. “It’s certainly a sense of renewed commitment and obligation to do everything we can to help students who have needs and keep the campus as safe as possible.”

Little has changed to the exterior of the house near the end of 36th Avenue in the year since the shooting.

A few patches of green grass stick out of the dried lawn. A white table covered in dirt rests atop a pile of leaves next to a toppled green pot. Peeled siding hangs on the back of the house.

For the university, it’s a reminder that the campus community is still recovering and still trying to make sense of Feb. 12, 2013.

Stephen Alex Rane, an English and linguistics major, loved learning languages, traveling and telling jokes. To many, he was known as the guy down the hall who knew how to cheer up anyone, whether it was a best friend or a classmate.

“Stephen is great,” friends said at a campus memorial service in Memorial Chapel on Feb. 12, 2013, recalling Rane’s favorite catchphrase.

Friends and family members, including Rane’s sister, Alison, also held a candlelit vigil on Feb. 19, 2013, near the McKeldin Mall sundial, where they shared memories.

A year after her brother’s death, Alison Rane said her family can’t put their loss into words.

“We can list off Stephen’s qualities and accomplishments, but none of that would convey what he meant to us,” Alison Rane said. “I miss his individual voice terribly, his thoughts about the world and how he would express them. No one will ever replace or replicate it.”

Senior staff writer Yasmeen Abutaleb contributed to this report.

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