Higher education

University of Iowa remembers 1991 mass shooting

'It shattered our innocence,' says friend of one victim

Professor Wayne Polyzou, Department of Physics and Astronomy, speaks about the victims of a 1991 shooting during a memorial on the north side of Old Capitol between Jessup and Macbride halls on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. The ceremony honored the victims and survivors of a campus shooting on Nov. 1, 1991. A memorial to the victims will be placed beneath the evergreen tree. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Professor Wayne Polyzou, Department of Physics and Astronomy, speaks about the victims of a 1991 shooting during a memorial on the north side of Old Capitol between Jessup and Macbride halls on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. The ceremony honored the victims and survivors of a campus shooting on Nov. 1, 1991. A memorial to the victims will be placed beneath the evergreen tree. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Just yards from where a disgruntled doctoral student ended a shooting rampage on the University of Iowa campus 25 years ago, a crowd of more than 100 on Tuesday paused outside Jessup Hall to mark the somber anniversary.

Bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” The Old Capitol bell tolled six times — once for each victim. UI Provost Barry Butler read from a memorial stone — to be placed beneath a nearby tree — that quotes Hunter Rawlings, UI president at the time of the shooting.

“We will not only recover,” Butler read from the quote. “We will become stronger as we draw together in support of the university we love.”

Rachel White, now in her 30s, stood on the green Pentacrest lawn — which, on an unseasonably warm and sunny day stood in stark contrast to the snow that fell 25 years ago — wiping away tears as they emerged from beneath her dark sunglasses.

“It shattered our innocence,” said White, who was 9 when her neighbor T. Anne Cleary — who she adored — was killed in the campus rampage. “We celebrated holidays. She came to all of our events.”

“She was a huge mentor to our three children,” said White’s mother, Janet White. “She brought joy into their lives.”

The family struggled to move past the horror that unfolded on the UI campus — and in their personal lives — on Nov. 1, 1991. They even left the neighborhood.

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“It was too difficult,” Janet White said. “Every time we would look at her home, it would just be sad.”

On that day a quarter century ago, physics and astronomy student Gang Lu, 28, attended a research group meeting on the third floor of Van Allen Hall, where he initiated the act of terror.

Using a .38-caliber revolver, Lu shot three people attending the meeting — Christoph K. Goertz, physics and astronomy professor and Lu’s dissertation chairman; Robert A. Smith, associate professor also on Lu’s dissertation committee; and Linhua Shan, research investigator in physics and astronomy and one of Lu’s former roommates.

He then moved to the second floor, where he shot Dwight R. Nicholson, chairman of the physics and astronomy department.

After Lu left Van Allen, he walked to Jessup Hall, where he asked to see Cleary, associate vice president for academic affairs and UI grievance officer. He shot Cleary, who died the next day in the hospital. He also shot Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, 23, who had been working as a temporary student employee in the grievance office.

Sioson was paralyzed from the neck down but survived to become a renowned advocate for people with disabilities. She died of breast cancer in 2008.

Lu eventually turned the gun on himself.

Investigators have said Lu was motivated to kill after being passed over for the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize, which included a monetary award of $2,500.

Butler, in remembering the event Tuesday, recalled the tragedy of losing six “remarkable people who had contributed so much to our community, academically, professionally, and personally.”

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“Thankfully we were able to move forward as a university community — forever scarred by tragedy but not destroyed by it,” Butler said.

He noted the community’s dedication to support one another.

“We stood up against cowardly voices of prejudice that tried to link the shooter’s Chinese heritage with his violence, and renewed our dedication to making all members of our community feel welcome,” Butler said. “We learned valuable lessons of how to be a kinder and safer community.”

UI physics professor Wayne Polyzou was in the building at the time of the shooting and said he remembers hearing the shots, feeling the confusion and facing the fallout.

“The world will never be the same,” Polyzou said. “The events of Nov. 1 left the department without the leadership necessary to work through this tragedy and devastated one of the most prominent theoretical programs in the department.”

But he credited the community for its members’ willingness to step forward and help.

“It’s a testament to the character of our community that many individuals — both in the department and the university community — stepped forward and worked together to help us through this very difficult period in our history,” Polyzou said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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