During my first semester at The University of Iowa, a disturbed grad student named Gang Lu got hold of a gun and killed five people, shot and injured a student before taking his own life.
It was a terrible tragedy (for that time, of course, we’ve had much more terrible ones since, but all losses due to avoidable gun violence are equally tragic) and shocked all of us there.
The shooter wrote a number of letters, which have never been released to the public, about why he did it, but it appeared that he had a grudge against his professors and the school. Iowa City isn’t very large, you likely could run into anyone at anytime, and Lu was a regular at one of the college bar there (his nickname was Smiling Lu, in fact).
This post is less about him, however, than his surviving victim, Miya Rodolfo-Sionson, who was a student working in the last office Lu entered to do what he did. He shot her and the bullet went into her mouth, out the back of her neck, shattering her vertebra and paralyzing her from the neck down for the rest of her life.
Like Lu before he died, Miya afterward was a regular sight in Iowa City, and I had the honor of meeting her to discuss the event, for research for a theatre project I was performing in (written by one of Iowa’s great grad playwrights)… she was very gracious and had actually seen me as an actor in plays before.
She shared her thoughts and recollections, not only on the event but the media circus that followed (she’d spoken to a lot of reporters, and the one thing I remember, after all these years, was that the reporter from the New York Times was “pretty rude”… coming from her, a very gracious person who is very soft-spoken, this was a pretty damning condemnation) and her life as it was…. I remember, very vividly, how strong she was, and how positive she was.
It left quite the impression on me, and I only met her a couple times, but it’s obvious she was a special person.
She went on to become an activist, and sadly she passed away in 2008. A documentary about her life was released in 2009. Here’s the trailer:
And here’s the website: Miya of the Quiet Strength where you can find out more information about Miya or order the dvd, if you wish.
We need more people like Miya, in this world.