One cold, snowy morning in January 1978, a man drove to Western Carolina University. He parked in the lot behind Hoey Auditorium. The man waited.
At about 8:30 a.m., a secretary in the music department drove her car into the same parking lot. The man raised his .22-caliber rifle and took aim. The woman stepped out of her vehicle. From his vantage point some 150 to 200 feet away, the man fired. He shot the woman three times in the hip and once in the shoulder.
She died about an hour later. This woman and her killer, who later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, lived near one another.
I’m not going to name them. This is a small community, and I choose not to identify those involved. There has been enough heartache and pain in connection with this 1978 tragedy.
Here’s why I even mention this long-ago shooting: To demonstrate the rarity of on-campus violence. This had been the last on-campus shooting, maybe the only one.
That changed last month.
A WCU student from Hendersonville was shot Oct. 6 in the back of his head. He died two days later after being removed from life support.
On Oct. 24, a second WCU student was shot, at River Walk Apartments, off-campus private housing. He was hit in the leg.
Much has changed in four decades. There are important differences between the latest shootings and the 1978 homicide.
You know already, don’t you?
The 1978 shooting took place after a personal disagreement.
Court documents indicate these latest acts of violence involved illegal drug dealing and drug use among WCU students.
When you write about drugs and you write about people who might be involved in the sale and use of drugs, there is a distinct risk of appearing to blame the victims.
No one deserves to be shot.
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
Here’s my less eloquent take: College kids do stupid things. Many of us look back and shake our heads in wonder, thankful we came through our stupid periods alive, sans criminal records to permanently record our stupid acts.
Jacob Ray, 21, who was fatally wounded along Old Cullowhee Road near the wooden WCU “welcome” sign, was involved in selling controlled substances, according to court documents.
In Ray’s room in Norton Residence Hall, police officers logged as evidence a digital scale, gun box, flashlight, ammunition, magazine, notepad, holster bag, money straps and “shatter,” a high-potency form of marijuana derived from butane hash oil.
Officers seized for forensic testing a “green-plant material” from the car of one of the suspect, also a student.
In the second shooting, a group of people, including at least some students, were hanging out in an off-campus apartment. A man wearing a black ski mask and dark clothing “came around the corner” toting a single-barrel shotgun. Two or three other masked individuals were with him. There was a scuffle. Students described seeing the assailant “raise the gun up and fire a shot across the living room,” according to court documents.
A bullet hit WCU track team member Corey Alston, 19, in the leg.
He might not have been the intended target. We just don’t know yet.
The student who opened the door told detectives he knew one of the individuals involved in the assault. He’d purchased drugs from him, according to court documents.
WCU, you have a drug problem.
Yes, so does every other university in the United States. That doesn’t change the facts about this university, the one located in our community.
Two shootings involving WCU students in less than three weeks shouldn’t be written off as anomalies, though the violence involved is indeed rare.
I’ll say it again.
WCU, you have a drug problem. An alarm has been sounded that must be answered.
Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.