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After day of fear, UCLA students grapple with resuming classes, feeling 'normal' again

UCLA quickly announced plans to hold most classes as scheduled on Thursday, the day after a murder-suicide in which two people died. But as thousands of rattled UCLA students gathered their belongings — and bearings — after a terrifying morning of hiding in restrooms, texting loved ones and attempting to barricade classroom doors from a gunman, the thought of resuming business as usual seemed impossible.

“I have to go back to the same area where the shooting happened tomorrow, I have to go back to the same area where I was in lockdown tomorrow. It’s just not going to feel the same,” Catherine Lowe, a freshman studying biology, said Wednesday. “I can’t focus, I’m supposed to write an essay due on Friday, and I can’t focus on anything right now because I’m in shock.”

“Two people died here today,” she said, her voice trailing off.

Lowe had been at a professor’s office hours Wednesday when cellphones buzzed to life across campus with alerts of a possible shooting. 

Full Coverage: Shooting at UCLA >>

For two hours, Lowe hid in the dark, joining thousands of others who found themselves racing to barricade classroom doors with desks, projectors and anything else they could find as a chaos of information flooded social media.

By 12:05 p.m., police confirmed that two men had been killed in an engineering building.

The campus was declared safe, and UCLA officials lifted a lockdown that had canceled classes for the day.

All classes, except those in engineering, were to resume Thursday, the university said. Engineering classes will resume once authorities have completed their investigation, which could be as early as Friday.  Final exams still are expected to begin next week.

“We anticipate final exams will go forward as scheduled, but should a student feel they need alternative arrangements in light of today’s events, they can work with their professors to discuss alternatives,” UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said.

Classes and exams that were canceled Wednesday will be handled on a case-by-case basis with professors and their students, Vazquez added. Some professors, for example, have asked students to complete and post their assignments online. Others are extending office hours or offering extra review sessions to make up for the lost class time.

Many students said they couldn’t imagine going back to “normal” after what happened Wednesday.

Andrew Avelino, a senior majoring in history, stood outside Dodd Hall Wednesday and looked out at the vast courtyard, empty except for reporters and a couple of students.

"It's very eerie," he said, noting that during finals week the courtyard and nearby library are normally bustling with students turning in term papers and rushing to exams.

Others said the reality of the work they still had to do was starting to hit them again.

Hunt Ma, a third-year electrical engineering student who was next to the building where shots were fired, spent the morning huddled around a computer with nine other students, monitoring news in the dark until they confirmed it was safe to head outside.

“The first few moments, it was scary,” Ma said. “It was a little confused and surreal. But now it’s time to think about finals again.”

Ma said security guards are always posted at his dorm, requiring students to present their ID cards and sign in guests before entering, and campus police frequently patrol the area.

“Even after this, I still feel safe,” he said.

He praised the BruinAlert system and the university training he had received about how to respond to emergencies. But he said he was frustrated by the conflicting information — some of it incorrect — that bombarded him from the campus, news, friends and family.

In the confusion and chaos, emotions ran high as professors scrambled to figure out what to do Wednesday morning. One sent an email, minutes after the shooting, asking students to take a scheduled exam remotely on a computer.

Some students were furious when they received the note. Melissa Platero, who is studying political science, took a screenshot of the email and posted it on Facebook.

“The fact that other UCLA professors have still requested for classes/finals/assignments to take place completely disregards the mental well-being of a student,” Platero wrote, without identifying the professor. “As someone who wasn't even on campus at the time of the shooting, but a block or so away in my apartment, the fear was still very much real.”

The professor followed up later with another email, according to Platero on Facebook. “I am moving to excuse EVERYONE (even those who successfully completed the 11 a.m. exam) from this part of the final exam,” the second email said. “This will not affect your grade negatively. All that will happen is this portion of the final no longer counts towards your grade.”

“Many of you are too stressed out to take it and I cannot reschedule it,” the professor wrote in the email.

Throughout the day, professors, faculty, administration and counselors tried to calm students in all sorts of ways. At the financial aid office, where some students took shelter during the lockdown, staff members offered water and Goldfish crackers, cookies, veggie chips — anything to help keep them calm and comfortable, said Marie Fuchigami, a student majoring in Japanese.

Graduate student Christos Kampouridis was closer to the shooting than many students. He found the door to his engineering class in Boelter Hall locked at 9:50 a.m., then turned to see a man with a gun walking down a nearby hallway. 

He immediately fled, shouting at nearby students to run. He burst out of the building and called 911, then began sending messages to friends and posting social media updates urging them to “stay away from engineering.”

After the lockdown was lifted, Kampouridis went straight to the gym to play basketball and "blow off some steam."

"I think I still haven't processed it," he said.

He planned to talk to his girlfriend about it, and to a university counselor on Thursday. But on Wednesday he only responded to people who reached out to ask if he was safe because he didn’t want to think about what had happened.

Lowe, the freshman who has to return to the same building Thursday where she was hiding in lockdown on Wednesday, said she was still trying to make sense of it all.

She wanted to get food with her friends and be surrounded by people, she said. By early evening, she was in search of any form of relief from the grief and stress. She had heard a pet therapy dog was on campus.

“It’s been a traumatic day, I’m not sure what to think of it,” she said. “Getting back to normal, it’s harder than it sounds.”

rosanna.xia@latimes.com | Twitter: @RosannaXia

angel.jennings@latimes.com | Twitter: @AngelJennings

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com | Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

Times staff writers Sonali Kohli and Brittny Mejia contributed to this report. 

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rosanna.xia@latimes.com

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