UNCC Shooting Four Years Later…

Yesterday marked the fourth year since a shooter entered my classroom in Kennedy 236, took two lives, and changed dozens more forever. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte brought me back to campus for the first time since 2019 for the dedication of a new memorial structure and garden.

When I first met with university administration after the shooting in 2019, they asked how I thought they should memorialize the victims and survivors. The one thing I emphasized was that I didn’t think that putting Reed and Riley’s names on a building was the best idea. Students go in and out of the buildings on campus every day and I bet that almost no one knows who the names on the buildings belong to.

I thought the university would commission a beautiful memorial statue that students could visit and contemplate. What they memorial commission decided on was beyond what I could have imagines. The Constellation Garden was designed with the inspiration of something Riley’s mother said in an interview in regard to the constellation of lives affected by the incident. The memorial lights up and can be programmed to show the night sky at different times of year, including the night sky on the nights of Reed and Riley’s births. The structure is interactive; each pillar has a button that sends shooting stars across the structure.

The structure feels enduring and is centered among beautiful landscaping. The flowers were chosen and planted intentionally, considering the pattern of blooming throughout the year.

I appreciate that the space calls to have people moving though the space. It serves both as a space for internal contemplation and also gathering.

Between the Constellation Garden and Kennedy, there is a plaque that provides context to the memorial.

I hope that students show the space the reverence that it deserves and continues to honor the lives of Reed and Riley, the survivors, and our community.


I wasn’t sure how my trip to campus for the first time in four years would go. I left my partner and daughter in Texas and got on a plane. I was emotional and insecure. I didn’t know how I would react or feel when confronting the worst day of my life face-to-face. The distance provided by being in Texas was necessary.

When I arrived at campus, I was flooded with a mix of feelings: guilt, sorrow, heartbreak, anger, anxiety. However, I also felt strong. Despite the overwhelming feelings, I finally realized that I have and continue to persevere despite the scars. This revelation came to me as I walked between Kennedy and Prospector while on the phone with my partner.

During the visit, I got to see people who were instrumental in helping me through the ordeal and have meant so much to me, professionally and personally. The first person I saw was Dr. Gregg Starrett, the chair of the anthropology department. We had a wonderful, normal conversation about the department, anthropology, and my progress in my Ph.D.

That evening, I had dinner with two of the most wonderful people in my life: Dr. Jon Marks and Dr. Peta Katz. I cherish them deeply. First they served as my professional and intellectual mentors, but after the shooting, they took me and my partner in. They made sure that we were okay and their generosity was one of the key things that put me of the track to recovery.

I also got to have a brief meeting with Dr. Coral Wayland, one of my mentors and the person who taught me how to teach by centering students.

The dedication event was touching. The speeches were emotional and moving. I got to meet the parents of Riley and Reed for the first time. That was emotional and I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Their pain and loss can never be undone, and I can’t fully put into words my sorrow for them.

Leaving Charlotte for Texas, and I felt that, despite the horror and pain of April 30, 2019, UNCC-Charlotte feels like home. I am less than one year away from completing my Ph.D. and go on the job market this fall. I would love to go home and continue my commitment to UNC-Charlotte. I will keep my fingers crossed that a return is in the cards. If not, then I will take my passion and dedication to education and scholarship to another institution where I hope to have an impact on new students and forward anthropology as the discipline who “strives to make the world safe for difference.”

The anthropology department saved my mail, and I was reminded of the consequences of my dedication to my students.

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