UNCC instructor who escaped school shooting says students were 'running for their lives'

A former student opened fire in his classroom before being apprehended.

May 3, 2019, 4:28 PM

A professor whose class was the site of the deadly school shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is giving his account of "what actually went down inside the room."

As students in Adam Johnson's anthropology class were giving their final presentations last month, a former student who had previously been enrolled in the course opened fire.

Johnson penned an essay about the experience, which was shared on the department’s website. Johnson wrote that he wanted to document the events and clear up any misinformation.

He said the shooting took place in the early evening of April 30, when one group was showing a video about static versus dynamic universe.

"We get about seven minutes into the video and without warning, earsplitting bangs ring throughout the room, off the glass walls, creating a terrible reverberation," Johnson wrote.

Students and faculty file out of buildings with their hands up during a lockdown after a shooting on the campus of University of North Carolina Charlotte in University City, Charlotte, on April 30, 2019.
Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images

He then detailed the confusion that erupted and how he kicked his chair and ushered students in the direction of the classroom doors.

"I make it to the door, out the door and hold it open for the rushing students. One student falls down in the door way and is stepped on, I pick them up and move them back with the flow of traffic," he wrote.

Johnson described the mayhem outside of the classroom.

"The students are scattering and running for their lives, in all directions," he said.

People stand during a vigil in the Dale F. Halton Arena at University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus the day after a gunman opened fire on students, May 1, 2019.
Travis Dove/The New York Times via Redux

Johnson said he and a few students ran to his office in the anthropology department, where the chair of the department called 911. They waited for "what seemed like forever" until campus police arrived, announcing the all clear, he said.

He detailed the hours that immediately followed, when he spoke to police and was met by his partner to pick up his car from campus before going to a nearby friends' house for dinner.

"My emotions are currently high and I am absolutely heartbroken. My students are incredibly special to me and I try to make that known throughout the semester,” he wrote.

Johnson did not identify anyone in the essay, including the student who “tackled the shooter and undoubtedly saved more lives."

As for the shooter, “we should not glorify him as it contributes to this kind of violence while continually traumatizing the victims and survivors," he said.

He did explain that the shooter had previously been enrolled in the class and while he was “engaged” early in the semester, the shooter stopped coming to class and Johnson was told that he withdrew.

Johnson said that he ran into the shooter shortly after learning that he withdrew from the class, which he estimates was either in late January or early February and “conveyed that it was a shame that they had to leave the course but I understood.”

Police secure the main entrance to UNC Charlotte after a fatal shooting at the school, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C.
Jason E. Miczek/AP

Johnson said students told him that the shooter didn’t say anything until after he emptied his gun magazine.

“One victim asked the shooter to stop shooting and [the shooter] said ‘I’m done,’” Johnson wrote.

In addition to addressing what he feels are the larger underlying sociological and philosophical issues related to mass shootings, he thanked his friends and community who have supported him in the aftermath.

"I am still trying to get an [sic] handle on my personal feelings surrounding this and I find it cathartic to engage with it anthropologically,” he wrote.