Students hug after placing flowers Wednesday at Michigan State University two days after a shooting that killed three people and wounded five in East Lansing, Mich. Photo by Dieu-Nalio Chery for The Washington Post

EAST LANSING, MICH. — Five student survivors of the Michigan State shooting remain hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday, campus police said, two days after a shooting that revived debate about gun control among students terrorized in the attack.

On Wednesday, the sprawling campus – home to 16,000 students and attended by more than 50,000 – was still reeling from Monday night’s shooting, in which three other students were killed and thousands spent nearly four hours barricaded in library study rooms, offices and dorms, listening to reports on the police scanner.

The gunman, whom police identified as Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43, died from what authorities described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a confrontation just before midnight Monday.

Activities at the university were halted Monday night, but that did not quell discussion of how best to secure the campus – by measures to limit guns or ones to extend their use.

For 150 years, “the Rock,” left behind by an ancient glacier, has been a community focal point on the Michigan State University campus, for decades constantly repainted with daily advisories. It has now become a fulcrum of the gun-control debate.

Images of the Rock painted with “How many more?” quickly became the defining symbol of the deadly shooting.


Later, however, an unknown party painted the rock with a pro-gun message – “Allow us to defend ourselves & carry on campus.” By Wednesday morning, students had stepped back in to repaint that message with names of the victims – and the polarizing debate continued.

“Look, I get people want to have their guns,” said Brooke Cibor, a 20-year-old sophomore, adding that the shooting has amplified the conversation about firearms here. “But just because you like your gun doesn’t mean you want someone shooting up your campus.”

The drama over the community message board comes at a time when Democratic lawmakers across the country are calling for stricter controls – and President Biden has renewed his call for an assault weapons ban from the State of the Union. Experts have said that Michigan lawmakers may be in their best position in years to pass gun-control legislation after flipping the state legislature in the November midterms.

Republicans in Michigan and nationally have remained opposed to tightening access to weapons.

Pro-gun “views that were reflected on the Rock are the minority not the majority,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat whose district includes East Lansing, said in an interview Wednesday. She noted an earlier shooting at a high school in nearby Oxford. “I think the ground has shifted on this a lot particularly with back-to-back shootings in our state. Politicians are behind the curve.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she wants three new policy changes passed – universal background checks, safe storage laws and a “red-flag law” that prevent a person who is deemed a threat to themselves or others from possessing a gun.


“We’re all broken by an all-too-familiar feeling – another place that is supposed to be about community and togetherness shattered by bullets and bloodshed,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said at a news conference Tuesday, choking back tears. “We know this is a uniquely American problem.”

Police said it remained unclear precisely when McRae bought the gun or guns he had at the time of the shooting. They were also still searching for the gunman’s motive, saying the shooter had no known ties to school.

“We have absolutely no idea what the motive was,” Chris Rozman, interim deputy chief of campus police, said at a news conference, adding that the gunman was not a student or a Michigan State employee.

A woman places flowers Wednesday, two days after the shooting at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. Photo by Dieu-Nalio Chery for The Washington Post

The three Michigan students who died were Arielle Anderson, 19, remembered as a straight-A student who dreamed of becoming a doctor someday; Alexandria Verner, 20, a three-sport high school athlete; and Brian Fraser, 20, who led his fraternity and was called a “great friend.” All were from communities in the Detroit area.

Police have not identified the wounded, citing their privacy.

Witnesses said that late classes were just wrapping in Berkey Hall, a social science building, around 8:18 p.m. Monday when the gunman entered and began firing, killing one student. The gunman then moved on to the student union and again opened fire, killing two more students, police said. Students ran for cover, screaming and upending tables as they scrambled for safety.


As their phones buzzed with warning alerts from the university security system, panicked students barricaded themselves in study rooms, hunkered down in classrooms and took refuge in nearby dorms. Police pursued the gunman for nearly four hours.

McRae’s father, Michael McRae, told The Washington Post that his son had changed after his mother’s death from a stroke in 2020, and that he had become withdrawn, sullen and rarely left the house.

The elder McRae said his grieving son “stayed in his room like a turtle” for hours at a time, describing him as “depressed and overly stressed out.”

The gunman had been a warehouse worker for at least seven years before losing his job, his father said, and was trying to find another “since he hadn’t worked for months.”

Michael McRae said his son had bought a gun sometime after he was arrested in 2019 on a weapons violation, but never admitted that he had it in the house and refused to show it to his father. When the father confronted the son about gunshots he heard in his backyard in Lansing, he said, Anthony McRae told him it was fireworks.

After the shooting, authorities said they found a note in the attacker’s pocket indicating threats against two schools in Ewing, N.J., where he had family ties. Police in Ewing said in a statement that schools there were closed Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution.” The gunman “had a history of mental health issues,” according to the statement, which did not elaborate.


McRae’s 2019 arrest was for carrying a loaded gun without the necessary permit. He was on probation for a year and a half, according to officials and court records.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, McRae was arrested June 7, 2019, after police spotted him leaving a Lansing store at 1:30 a.m. When questioned by police, the department said, he admitted having a gun but lacked a concealed-weapons permit, prompting the arrest.

“He claimed he left home to walk to a store to buy cigarettes and feared for his safety, so he took his gun,” Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said in a statement.

Court records in Ingham County show that in October 2019, McRae pleaded guilty to one of the two charges he was facing. Under a plea agreement, the court records indicate, the count of carrying a concealed weapon was dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to a count of possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle, a misdemeanor.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, McRae would forfeit his weapon, the records show.

If McRae had been convicted of the original charge of carrying a concealed weapon, he would have been unable to legally buy or possess a firearm, because that was a felony count, said John J. Dewane, the Ingham County prosecutor who took over that office at the end of last year. Federal law largely prohibits people convicted of felonies from buying or possessing firearms.


Biden on Tuesday renewed his call for an assault weapons ban that he had made in his State of the Union speech last week. Biden signed a law last year that included the most significant firearms restrictions enacted by Congress in decades, although they fell far short of Democratic goals.

“The fact that this shooting took place the night before this country marks five years since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, should cause every American to exclaim ‘enough’ and demand that Congress take action,” Biden said in a statement.

The carnage at Michigan State added to the growing toll of shooting rampages that have become consistent parts of American life, and fueled familiar debates about gun laws and pleas for change. The familiarity of this latest horror was underscored by the attack’s location and timing: It took place just 80 miles west of the Oxford high school where a shooter killed four a little more than a year earlier, and occurred on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Parkland massacre that saw 17 people gunned down.

Slotkin noted that some current MSU students were graduates of Oxford High School and therefore are now young veterans of two deadly school shootings.

“For me the most haunting picture of last night was watching the cameras pan through the crowds and seeing a young person wearing an ‘Oxford Strong’ sweatshirt,” Slotkin said. “We have children in Michigan who are living through their second school shooting in under a year and a half. If this is not a wake-up call to do something, I don’t know what is.”

The Michigan State shooting was the latest in a long line of high-profile mass shootings so far this year, along with seven agriculture workers killed in Half Moon Bay, Calif., a small coastal community in the northern part of the state, and the 11 who died in another mass killing to the south in Monterey Park, at a dance studio in a largely Asian American community celebrating the Lunar New Year festival.

So far this year, there have been 68 mass shootings in the United States, more than at this point in any year since the archive began tracking in 2014, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

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