It was a tough morning in Columbus yesterday. When word spread that there was an active shooter somewhere on the Ohio State campus, everyone in town started thinking about people they know who attend the University, or work there, or might conceivably be down in the campus area. Because Ohio State is a huge, integral part of the Columbus community, a violent incident on campus could affect a lot of people, students and non-students alike. We held our breath and hoped.
As the day wore on, the story changed. The active shooter became an Ohio State student who apparently pulled a fire alarm at the OSU engineering buildings and labs, then drove his car into the crowd of students and faculty who had exited the buildings in response to the alarm. After his car hit the crowd, the driver emerged armed with a butcher’s knife and began slashing and stabbing people. Students broke and ran. Fortunately, an Ohio State campus police officer happened to be nearby, and he shot and killed the assailant — a student named Abdul Razak Ali Artan — before he was able to injure anyone else. Eleven innocent people were hurt in the car crash and stabbings, but all are expected to survive. You can read the AP story about the incident here and the Columbus Dispatch story here.
Was it an act of terrorism? Authorities are investigating whether Artan became self-radicalized somehow, and was responding to calls from terrorist groups, like ISIS, encouraging members to engage in car attacks and knife attacks against westerners. According to witnesses, Artan wasn’t speaking when he emerged from the car and started his slashing attacks. We’ll have to wait for authorities to piece together his back story from the evidence they gather, and while the investigation proceeds our city will hold its breath a second time. That’s because Artan apparently was of Somali descent, and Columbus has a large Somali community — and when something like this happens, there are inevitable fears of a backlash. Having lived in Columbus for decades, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but people will be walking on eggshells for a while.
Whether Artan’s attack is officially found to be an act of terrorism, or just the violent attack of someone who became deranged, for a brief period yesterday there was terror on the Ohio State campus. Students were put in danger, their parents tried frantically to find out whether their children were OK, and our community had to deal with another of the distressingly frequent acts of random violence.
It just sucks.