Morgan State campus grows quiet after shooting cancels homecoming festivities
Many students return home for a mental break amid concerns about safety, as alumni change travel plans
The cancellation of homecoming festivities at Morgan State University in Baltimore following a shooting Tuesday night that wounded five people, including four students, left campus largely empty at a time of year it’s usually crowded with thousands of students and alumni celebrating.
Many alumni changed or canceled their travel plans, while a large number of students returned home for the weekend citing their desire to take a break from campus, as well as safety concerns.
Ty’rique Sims, a Baltimore native and 2020 Morgan State graduate, initially planned to come home this weekend to visit family and attend his alma mater’s homecoming before learning of the shooting via social media. Though the Baltimore native wasn’t surprised there had been a shooting on campus, once reports confirmed multiple people had been injured, the incident took on more weight.
“It wasn’t a shock. … We’ve had things like this happen on our campus all the time. I saw the report about a shooting, and I was like, ‘Man, not again.’ But then I started seeing it was getting worse,” Sims said. “Morgan is my home for real. Any college across the country it’s sad to hear [when shootings occur], but when it’s a school that you graduated from and spent four years of your life, something like this hits a little different.”
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Morgan State president David K. Wilson said four victims have been released from the hospital and the fifth victim is in stable condition. Baltimore police commissioner Richard Worley said Metro Crime Stoppers of Maryland is offering a $9,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooters, adding that police believe the suspects are not students.
Lance Hatcher, Morgan State’s chief of police, said the university is considering making students wear a visible school identification card.
This year’s shooting is the third consecutive year gun violence has marred Morgan State’s homecoming. In 2021, a freshman student was shot on campus following the homecoming football game. Last year, a 20-year-old man was shot on campus at an unsanctioned homecoming after-party.
Sims rearranged his plans after the university canceled homecoming and said he couldn’t imagine celebrating after what had occurred only days earlier.
“It was the right decision, especially because they haven’t caught the suspect yet,” Sims said. “After all that that just happened, do you really feel comfortable celebrating [and] having a good time? It really sucks because Morgan’s homecoming is great. It’s always a good time, but when things like this happen, you got to look at a bigger picture.”
In a statement Thursday, Wilson announced updated security measures at the university:
“In response to the shooting incident, we have employed the following:
- “Morgan State University Police Department (MSUPD) officer patrols have been significantly increased throughout campus for the rest of the week, and an armed university police officer has been permanently stationed in the area outside of the Thurgood Marshall Residence Hall where the incident took place.
- “The reallocation of Morgan’s supplemental security force, with security personnel being strategically placed in high-traffic areas.
- “Reinforcing the utilization of the MSUPD Safety Escort service, which is available 24/7, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., by calling 443-885-3103.”
(During a visit to Morgan’s campus on Thursday, this reporter observed two police cars in front of the entrance to the residence hall, as well as two security officers requiring students to pass through metal detectors and undergo bag searches as necessary.)
Morgan State junior Christian Gatlin hopes the university will improve security in the wake of the shooting. One of the bullets shattered a window in Thurgood Marshall Hall near its dining facility, and another bullet shattered a window in a student’s dorm room.
On Friday, police patrolled in front of the residence hall, and the sidewalk remained blocked off.
“We need to increase in more professional security systems on campus,” Gatlin said. “I used to go to Thurgood. The security there is not as secure as it should be, but this could have been prevented if we had more strict security on campus.”
Gatlin vividly remembers hearing faint pops he initially attributed to fireworks, but after seeing a group of students running toward him, he ran too, without knowing the gravity of the situation.
“It was scary because, like, … people could have died,” Gatlin said. “That could have been me and my life in jeopardy. And it just shows campus safety is still a big issue, like, not only at Morgan State University, but around the world.”
Gatlin’s parents bought him a plane ticket home, and he plans to spend the weekend in Los Angeles with family as a mental health break.
“I’m 20 [years old]. There’s people here 17, 18, 19, people trying to go to college [and] graduate college. I want them to walk the stage, I don’t want them to get killed during college, but I think we need to put our safety as priority. Do whatever it takes. If you have to close down homecoming activities, then it has to be down.”
Morgan State senior Trinity Gibson had scheduled a hair appointment on Tuesday night to get ready for the homecoming festivities later in the week. While at the salon, she received a flurry of calls and text messages about the shooting from her Alpha Kappa Alpha line sisters, who were present at the coronation of Mister and Miss Morgan State, a homecoming kickoff event.
After experiencing a Morgan State homecoming for the first time as a freshman in 2019, Gibson said she has noticed an increase in violence during homecoming festivities in recent years.
“[My first homecoming] was, like, very family-oriented, everybody together laughing, playing around, drinking, just genuinely having fun. We’re not stressed about nothing, we’re not thinking about no tests – none of that,” Gibson told Andscape. “Everybody just coming together and having a good time. … It’s all smiles [and] it’s all love. It [felt] very welcoming. That’s what really brought me to Morgan, anyway. It was like a family.”
The contrast between then and now struck her.
“Right after COVID, every time we have a Morgan homecoming, it was a shooting,” Gibson said. “It kind of sucks, because I know a lot of people who are older than me, they’ll be like, ‘Morgan homecoming is a time where family comes together,’ and it’s like, yeah, we’re coming together but it’s, like, things are scary. Like, you don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to feel that way at homecoming.”
Extra security measures were put in place following the 2021 homecoming shooting incident, Gibson recalled.
“In 2021 there was a shooting, so our next homecoming, in 2022, we basically confined everybody to one area and [had] metal detectors. So everyone had to be in one line, everybody had to go through the metal detector in order to get into what we call our practice field,” Gibson said. “It was an enclosed space. They tried to implement measures. But then at the same time, once they literally took those metal detectors down the same thing happened again.”
Morgan State Hall of Famer Bobby Hammond, who played in the NFL with the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, was among the thousands of alumni who had planned to attend homecoming. As a student, Hammond didn’t get to fully participate in homecoming festivities – he was always focused on preparing for the football game.
“What I’ve done each year that I’ve had a chance to go is that I’ve taken my grandkids to expose them to that, that culture and how important it is to be part of a historically Black college,” Hammond said.
While he understands some students are upset, he’s proud his alma mater protected them.
“While you are disappointed, know that they made the right decision for you and that future experience, as it relates to homecoming, would be a much better and a more secure environment,” Hammond said. “So don’t think that this is something that they’re doing to punish you. But just remember, they’ve got to do everything in their power to make sure that these types of activities don’t happen again.”
In response to the shooting at Morgan State, historically Black Bowie State University, also in Maryland, announced it would increase its homecoming security measures. According to NBC Washington, Mark Cummings, Bowie State’s campus police chief and director of public safety, said the school would deploy more unarmed and armed officers on campus, security teams on bikes and walking beats, metal detectors and security wands at homecoming events, upgraded security cameras and more lights in dark areas around campus.
Despite understanding student welfare and safety were the primary reasons for canceling homecoming, students are still disappointed in how homecoming week has ended.
“I was getting excited. I was ready to experience that last, like, hurrah in college while I’m still in the chapter at my school,” Gibson said. “I was getting ready, and then next thing you know everything is canceled. Everything is taken away from us.
“Like, what else is there for us to do? Now people are scared to go on campus. I barely want to go to my night class. It’s just kind of like, why would [the shooters] try to take this away from us?”