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A student’s reflection, 22 years after the Gang Lu shooting

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T. Anne Cleary Walkway
“Jessica, do you know who the T. Anne Cleary Walkway is named after?” — photo by Rachel Jessen
By Jessica Graff

Tick-tok. He thought they didn’t respect him. Tick-tok. He thought they didn’t understand him. Tick-tok. He thought they didn’t deserve him. Tick-tok. He would show them. Tick-tok. He’d been waiting for this. Tick-tok. He’d been practicing. Tick-tok. He had his gun. Tick-tok. It is time. Tick-tok. Tick-tok. Tick-tok.

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

Tick-tok. Tick-tok. Tick-tok.

I stride across the University of Iowa campus on a summer day with my brand new roommate and her mother, who so graciously welcomed this city girl to all the Midwestern charm Iowa City holds. The culture shock and time change are still prevalent as I gaze at my new home. As we stroll down the T. Anne Cleary walkway, my roommate’s mother turns to me, solemn for the first time today.

“Jessica, do you know who the T. Anne Cleary Walkway is named after?”

“No, who?”

“It was named after a woman who died in a school tragedy.”

“Mom!” my roommate interjects, “You can say shooting, it’s been at least 20 years since it happened!”

Her mom sighed and we kept walking to our dorm as if the whole conversation had evaporated like the humidity we were traveling in, but it kept me sweating in more ways than one.

He had come here to be successful, and here he thought he was sitting amongst lustful imbeciles, his ideas being looked past as if he was made of the papers they had him copy. He felt he was better than them, and certainly better than Linhua Shan who received the award. In China, he was at the top of his class at the prestigious University of Beijing, and it was an honor to be sent to America to study physics. He was supposed to make my family proud. He was supposed to win the Spriesterbach Prize. 

For months I ignored the unsettling feelings that surrounded the T. Anne Cleary walkway on my walks to class, but one day I grudgingly decide to address the looming history that surrounded the shooting. I start by asking my classmates, but very few have heard of a shooting. I am baffled by the idea that a school tragedy that so deeply affected the generations before us is hardly recognized by my peers. It’s as if the school wants to forget everything, just as much as the students don’t care to remember.

He writes his sister back home, Lu Huimin. He encloses money he made in America. He regrets not studying a more practical subject, and the study of physics has become more disappointing than ever. He knows he is angry, and that his sister would not want him to be. But it is too late. He is going to kill himself and will not be alone in my journey to hell. He has, through careful selection, chosen some others to join him in death. He writes four other letters as the bloody dawn approaches. 

My empty search now leads me to the internet. As I type into the search engine “University of Iowa 1991 shooting,” headlines immediately pop up, plummeting me deeper into the tragedy. Like bodies, the names of the five victims pile up on my computer screen, Christoph K. Goertz, Robert A. Smith, Linhua Shan, Dwight R. Nicholson and lastly, T. Anne Cleary.

I learn the facts: Gang Lu was a physics graduate student at the University of Iowa. He felt unappreciated and after not receiving a desired honor, took revenge on those of whom he felt had wronged him. On Friday, Nov. 1, 1991, Lu attended a physics research group in Van Allen Hall, where he shot Goertz, Smith and his rival, Shan. He then proceeded downstairs and shot the department chair, Nicholson. After leaving Van Allen, he ran to Jessup Hall and shot his beloved academic advisor Cleary, whom he had complained to earlier that week, and also her assistant, Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, the only survivor of the massacre. Finally, he went up into an empty conference room and shot himself.

As much as I fill my mind with information, I still don’t truly know and I find myself begging to understand the details of Gang Lu’s descent into madness. I come upon Jo Ann Beard’s essay The Fourth State of Matter and become encapsulated in the unraveling details.

Tick-tok. The clicking of his watch mimics the measured beating of his heart. Tick-tok. What  if he misses? Tick-Tok. Then he will just shoot them again. Tick-tok. And again. Tick-tok. And again. Tick-tok. It is time, he goes upstairs.

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

Reload. He goes downstairs.

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. 

Reload. He goes to Jessup Hall.

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

Reload. He goes to an empty conference room.

BANG.

I sit behind my desk, feeling heavy and weighed down with sadness. I watch news clips from 1991, flinching as the newscaster announces the victims, and it’s as if I was standing in front of Van Allen that Friday morning 22 years ago myself. I can feel the chilly air sitting on my shoulders, the confused state of chaos, the anger bubbling for so long inside of the killer. I get up and take a visit to present-day Van Allen. I stop in front of the second floor room where a small bronze plaque signifies the fallen, and with the help of kindly professor I’m given access to the conference room itself. Everything is left the same from that fatal Friday afternoon, the creaky wooden chairs, the yellow-tinged books and the eerie silence that still hangs in the air.

On my way home I stop at the T. Anne Cleary walkway, dedicated in 1992 to the much-loved victim of the shooting. It’s a peacefully warm day and the air wraps around me like a hand-woven blanket. I sit on a bench nearby, reflecting on everything I now know about the past of Iowa City and how the memory of this tragedy was fading away. Tick-tok. Tick-tok. Tick-tok.

Jessica Graff is originally from Washington D.C. and has just begun her writing career as a first-year student at the University of Iowa where she is studying English and working toward receiving the creative writing certificate. This is her first ever publication.


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5 thoughts on “A student’s reflection, 22 years after the Gang Lu shooting

  1. There is more to Jessica Graff’s article about the shooting at the University of Iowa then she has written about. There are many unanswered questions that will never be answered because the people involved who know the answers, but will not speak because they want to forget. Two questions that need to be answered the most are why Gang Lu was even allowed to buy weapons at the local gun shop when he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but only there on a student visa and why even 22 years later the university still covers up the knowledge that they knew what was going to to happen from letters they received a day before and did nothing to prevent it. The question is why?

  2. Christolph K. Goertz was my undergrad physics instructor. His lessons were clear & concise. But what I really remember is that in his last few lectures, he made exploration of the universe irrisistable. Most of us were bent on, and achieved, mundane goals.
    When I heard of his shooting, I was an internist in a Davenport emergengy room. I was 5 months pregnent with my 3rd child.
    What affected me most was the news that he had a cousin who needed a kidney transplant. Couldn’t the medical community rally & transplant his kidneys? No, he had bled out, and his kidneys were useless. Besides, time precludes transplant of cadaver kidneys across time zones.
    But I didn’t forget this lesson when my son deployed to Iraq in “the surge” of May, 2007. I asked an on-line family correspondent whether a pre-designated donor, like my son, would have his preferences honored should he die at Landstuhl? I received a response that I was the ONLY MOM WHO had ever asked this question.
    Later I received a more official reply to the effect that the US has an agreement with its ally, Germany, that should donor organs become availble, German medical teams would be dispached to harvest & pay for all medical expenses entailed in retrieving such organs.
    It gave me some comfort to know that rationality (if not humanity) had prevailed.
    My son in fact survived his 2nd deployment and is still an organ donor.
    I just want to pay hommage to my professor, and let him & his know that his values endure.

  3. The Lu Gung event has been forgot for so many years, and I happened to read it in a website of news. I found myself lost in the scene of gun shooting. I can feel people’s crying, screaming, fearing, ’cause horrible sights are inconceivable, bloody floor lies 3 professors’ dead body, with several shots deep into their skins, and another student bleeding heavily on his seat.
    THE ONLY THOUGHT in my mind is WHY would Lu Gung come to an idea to WRITE LETTERS before executing his “revenge” plan?
    What a great anger and desperateness can push 6 all to death in one day?
    Or just be driven by desperateness, since anger fade out quickly, when despair flush into one’s mind, they possibly turns to be huge anger, sounds like people should be responsible for his “pity” life. But all came out of his decisions, his way of processing unexpected information.
    THIS IS AN ALERT, A WARNING, our education is somewhere deep wrong, Einstein once put, schools are places that teach us how to be a man, how to manage a survival.

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