A year ago today, student Chris Howard was in Seattle Pacific University’s engineering building when his friend Thomas Fowler ran in.
Fowler was injured, but Howard didn’t initially realize what had happened: A gunman had opened fire on campus.
Howard told KUOW's Jeannie Yandel what happened next and how he has come to terms with the shooting in his senior year at SPU.
“You don't think that it is happening to you, that it is happening at all,” Howard said. “We live next to the canal ... and I just thought he got attacked by a duck or a bird or something. The first thing that ran through my head was that he obviously needs medical attention. And as we’re administering, we can find out what the hell's happening.”
Howard said he then went out into the hallway.
“I wanted to go out and find someone who actually had like EMT training and that's when I turned and saw one of the seniors just kneeling over a body. That’s when it ticked that it's real, that there was a shooter,” Howard said.
“After that, when my friend saw me she cried out, literally cried out to me, and I was a sprinter in high school and that's probably the fastest I've ever ran in my life is to help them."
Another student, Jon Meis, had pepper sprayed the attacker and tackled him. One student, Paul Lee, was killed. Two others, Fowler and Sarah Williams, were wounded.
On Thursday, Howard was at work in the same building, Otto Miller Hall, where the shooting occurred.
“It was a bit hard to come back,” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s still home, where I spent countless hours of my life. And it's where I've done great things in my classes, been absolutely proud of my projects. It’s where I've done terrible on tests, it’s where, you know, tears have been shed over homework questions late at night, and it's where I come and feel at peace.”
He said he struggled with memories of the shooting for months.
“I would say to anyone who is trapped in their memories in the past, just don't be hard on yourself, and if you're listening to this and thinking of yourself, then you deserve a break,” Howard said.
“Do whatever you feel will help you overcome this. Whether that’s to take a day off from work, to make yourself your favorite dish. To just sit down to watch that movie that you watched as a kid with your father or mother that just makes you feel good inside. And make some new memories to help replace the old ones. … Rest, rest and be free.”
Today, school officials are bringing students together around music and dance to remember Paul Lee, the student who died. There was a chapel service at 12:30 p.m.
SPU president Dan Martin says the service was meant to reflect on Lee’s legacy and love for dance and was to include a tribute from his dance group.
“We took that idea of dance and actually had it be a framing theme as we came back to campus last fall in terms of how we are to move forward as a community,” Martin said.
A choral requiem by students also was planned for Friday night.
Aaron Ybarra, a man with no connection to SPU, awaits trial in the shooting. His recorded confession to police was released in December. His attorney says that disclosure hurts Ybarra’s chances for a fair trial.
Thomas Fowler is set to graduate this year.