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EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN - 14 FEBRUARY: Flowers and crime scene tape are shown outside Berkey Hall on the campus of Michigan State University where several students were shot on 13 February 2023 in Lansing, Michigan. A gunman opened at two locations on the campus last night, killing three students and injuring several others before taking his own life. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Michigan State University Settles with Families of Mass Shooting Victims

On 13 February 2023, a gunman fatally shot three students at Michigan State University (MSU) and wounded five others. On 15 December, trustees at the university approved a $15 million settlement with the families of the three students killed.

Ariella Anderson, Brian Fraser, and Alexandria Verner were all killed by a shooter who opened fire at Berkey Hall and the MSU Union in the evening of 13 February. Although police were on-site within minutes at each shooting location, the attacker evaded immediate capture. Students remained in lockdown, barricaded into classrooms and dormitories, for 236 minutes while they waited for an all-clear signal from campus authorities.

The 43-year-old shooter allegedly had no connection to the victims or the university, and he killed himself the night of the shootings after being confronted by police, the Associated Press reported. The shooter had a list of other targets, two handguns, and plenty of ammunition when he was found by police, according to CNN.

The lawsuits filed by the three families’ attorneys raised concerns about MSU’s campus surveillance system, public access to the buildings at night, and the inability to lock classroom doors in Berkey Hall, according to The Washington Post.

“We now live in a horrible time of mass shootings, and we can’t pretend like they don’t happen,” said Ven Johnson, an attorney for the families of Fraser and Anderson. “We believe that our clients, by bringing these claims, will hopefully make things safer for people in the future in our public buildings.”

After the attack, MSU announced it would be improving campus safety by restricting building access to key card holders between 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. at the East Lansing campus; installing door lock replacements in approximately 800 classrooms; and adding video surveillance cameras to areas without adequate coverage, including in academic buildings and in emergency phone stations on campus. It is also making active violent intruder training strongly recommended for all employees and students. MSU originally changed its training plan to be required for students and employees, but the university reversed that decision before the fall 2023 semester.

Berkey Hall was one of the first buildings to receive new locks, and the building is scheduled to reopen in early 2024. The campus union reopened in April 2023.

MSU also released a 25-page report from Security Risk Management Consultants (SRMC) in October 2023, outlining the firm’s findings and recommendations to strengthen campus security following the shooting. The report focused on four key questions: what was expected to happen, what actually occurred, what went well and why, and what can be improved and how. The report’s recommendations centered around 14 elements:

  • Policies and procedures
  • Planning and preparation
  • Training
  • Officer safety and equipment
  • Leadership, coordination, and collaboration
  • Command and control
  • Emergency medical and psychological care
  • Internal communications, situational awareness, and intelligence
  • External communications, public relations, and traditional and social media
  • Interagency MOUs, support agreements, and practices
  • First responder wellness and mental health
  • Victim and witness support
  • Community relations, partnerships, and resilience
  • Institutional continuity and recovery efforts
  • Additional physical security measures and technologies, including the application of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles

The report found that law enforcement responses to the shooting situation were appropriately handled given the circumstances and the information available at the time. The report noted that, “We believe the initial response by MSU police and other police agencies was efficient and effective. The response in no way contributed to the prolongation of the incident, nor did it contribute in any way to additional loss of life.”

After the report, MSU added to its security and procedure improvements, including implementing a centralized security operations center and upgrading electronic building access.

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SRMC also noted that many people self-deployed to help during the crisis—including MSU staff, local clergy, and mental health professionals. “Although well-intentioned, this added to the chaos,” the report said, especially because too many self-dispatched police officers led to public reports of unknown people with guns on or around campus.

The victims’ families and attorneys praised MSU for the settlements and the actions taken to prevent similar crises in the future. Verner family attorney David Femminineo said in a press conference that the lawsuit was not about blaming MSU but seeking answers about how mass shootings could be prevented moving forward. Verner’s family plans on using the $5 million settlement to create scholarships and other initiatives in her memory, The Detroit News reported.

“MSU did the right thing, they stepped up and committed to supporting this family moving forward so the legacy of Alex Verner will never be forgotten and so that she can act as a lightning rod for change to prevent this from ever happening to anyone again, not only on the campus of MSU but anywhere in the state of Michigan," Femminineo said.