Jillian Smith, a student at Seattle Pacific University, recently returned to the building where a fatal shooting had taken place months before.
The lobby has been redecorated – it now features a mural depicting the building’s origins as a maintenance shed for the Interurban streetcar line.
But what stood out to Smith were the white walls.
In June, one of the most traumatic memories for her was seeing blood on the building’s white walls. She had been taking a test in Otto Miller Hall, where the shooting took place on June 5.
“I was wondering if they were going to paint them a different color or something,” she said. “But they were still white. I’m kind of wondering if they’re going to keep those white or not.”
This week new students at Seattle Pacific University will arrive on campus for orientation. They’re entering a campus that made headlines in June for a shooting that left one student dead and two injured. Officials and students at the small Christian college say they’re preparing to make new students feel welcome, and to address lingering grief or fear.
Aaron Ybarra, a man with no connection to SPU, was arrested and accused of killing student Paul Lee and injuring two others, Thomas Fowler and Sarah Williams. It happened as the academic year was ending. Smith said it was a relief to head into summer break.
“I went to a couple services and then after that I was like, I need to take a break from this and just spend some time thinking about it on my own,” she said.
SPU has made more counselors available since June. As the new school year begins, Jeff Jordan, vice president of student life, said he’s still trying to “take the pulse” of staff and students to see what would help.
Otto Miller Hall was closed for much of the summer. SPU marked the reopening with a dedication ceremony for faculty and staff who work there. The college chaplain, Bo Lim, said they moved in a procession throughout the building; a Greek Orthodox priest led the ceremony and blessed each room.
“And we know it’s not magic or anything like that, God’s presence is everywhere,” Lim said, “but to remember and have that ceremony was deeply moving and I was deeply appreciative.”
Jordan said the school also changed the look of the building.
“This is all brand new as far as the furnishings here and the setup is very different to what it was,” he said. “This will be a very different look and hopefully at least from my perspective a very different feel when you walk into this building.”
Some students, like senior Jasmine Hairston, are still dealing with the academic consequences of the upheaval. Last year Hairston was a residential advisor to over 30 first-year students.
“A good majority of my girls were in Otto Miller Hall when it happened and knew Paul Lee, the student who died. So it was very heavy on our floor,” she said.
Hairston helped them gather together, texted encouragement when they were away, and walked students to counseling sessions. She wasn’t able to complete all her classes, so she’s finishing that coursework this fall. Hairston and other students said it’s been disorienting to see their school in the headlines over the shooting. But they’re glad the world got to see their response, in all its honesty.
“I was very impressed by the authenticity of our response, and how we weren’t like, ‘Oh, we’re OK because we’re Christians and we have this great amount of faith so everything’s all right,’” she said.
"Just being very real -- this is real, this is a tragedy. We’re hurting. We’ve been traumatized. But we still believe in God’s faithfulness."
Many people contacted SPU in the wake of the shootings to offer help. The school created an engineering scholarship in graduate Jon Meis’ name. He was the student who helped subdue the shooter.
And Paul Lee’s family has started a foundation to support awareness and treatment of mental illness. They say their son’s life “was ended by the very kind of person he would have wanted to help.”