ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Seeing the “active shooter” text message alert on his phone brought Wheeling resident Bryan Blawut to an unsettling realization as he worked in Ohio State University’s veterinary medicine building Monday morning:
It can happen to me.
The threat referenced in the text message turned out not to be an active shooter, but a Somali-born OSU student who plowed his car into a group of pedestrians on campus and then got out and began stabbing people with a butcher knife before he was shot to death by an officer. Police said they are investigating whether it was a terrorist attack. Eleven people were hurt, one critically.
The attacker was identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan. He was born in Somalia and was a legal permanent U.S. resident, according to a U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The FBI joined the investigation.
For Blawut, a graduate research assistant at OSU’s College of Veterinarian Medicine, much of Monday was spent reassuring loved ones that he was OK and processing what happened.
“Through the last hours I’ve been getting texts from family and friends. … We have a heavy door on the lab. We locked that and stayed put,” Blawut said. “There are no windows at all.”
“It was a weird feeling because it has never happened to me before. You hear about shootings on TV and the news, but you become detached from it in some ways because it hasn’t happened to you,” Blawut added. “I was sitting there and it was weird because I don’t feel in danger now. But it’s a weird feeling that this is happening on campus where you are.”
Blawut, 25, is the son of Joe and Dana Blawut of Wheeling. Blawut said he planned to get back to his work as soon as possible. He recently turned in his thesis, and he is working to finish a related presentation.
“We get emails every week about some sort of mugging or break-ins in the campus area, but nothing quite as serious as this,” Blawut added.
St. Clairsville resident Cody Jackson, a junior at OSU, was waiting for a bus just a block away from where the incident occurred. He noted when he arrived at the bus stop there were police and fire vehicles around him, but he first assumed there might be a fire on campus.
“The first alert text said to shelter in place and there were no other details. I just hung out at the bus stop. The next alert said there was an active shooter at Watts Hall. I started running down the street to get away. By that point there were all types of cops there yelling at us to run,” Jackson, the son of Lori and Dale Jackson of St. Clairsville, said. “I was fortunate to get away.”
Martins Ferry resident Joel Shane, a freshman, said he was in his dorm room when he heard loud noises outside.
“We didn’t think it was gunshots. There were loud sounds and nine or 10 minutes later we got text alerts about a shooter on campus and to stay in and shelter,” Shane said.
Shane said though the university lifted its shelter-in-place order, he heard reports that police were still searching for a reported second suspect near a parking garage. It was later determined Artan acted alone.
“I’m staying in the dorm. I’m not leaving. Classes were canceled today anyway,” Shane said about two hours after the initial incident took place.
Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs, asked at a news conference whether authorities were considering the possibility it was a terrorist act, said: “I think we have to consider that it is.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that while the bloodshed is still under investigation, it “bears all of the hallmarks of a terror attack carried out by someone who may have been self-radicalized.”
Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, ran an interview in August with a student named Abdul Razak Artan, who identified himself as a Muslim and a third-year logistics management student who had just transferred from Columbus State in the fall.
He said he was looking for a place to pray openly and worried about how he would be received.
“I was kind of scared with everything going on in the media. I’m a Muslim, it’s not what media portrays me to be,” he told the newspaper. “If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads.”
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