Finding safety to grieve, to heal and to remember

Jesh Humphrey

Jesh Humphrey, vice chancellor for institutional integrity and general counsel, was one of the first staff members to respond to the Emergency Operations Center following the shooting on April 30, 2019. He would remain there until the early morning hours of May 1, and would continue to help guide the University’s response and recovery in the weeks and months that followed. Here, he reflects on his experience, not as a campus administrator but as a proud member of Niner Nation.

I think it’s in our nature, when the world around us is senseless and sad, to remind ourselves and those we love of the good things that persist.

I am occasionally—and often unexpectedly—overwhelmed by my memories of April 30, 2019: the last words I said to my sons, my precious boys, as I departed our home for the Emergency Operations Center — you are safe; you are loved— the chaos of those initial hours, the devastation of learning we lost two students, the unjust and unwelcome invasion of evil and fear onto our beautiful campus.

And when I am flooded with those memories and the sense of loss accompanying them, I remind myself of all the good things I found in the days that followed.

I learned about two sons, two other fathers’ precious boys, whose kindness and intelligence and compassion and selflessness exemplified the values we seek to instill in every one of our students.

I marveled at the courage and resilience of our faculty and staff and students, of Rami and Sean and Emily and Drew. Of an entire community pledging to eternally remember and honor Riley and Reed, and defiantly declaring that it would be defined by how we embraced and supported each other in the days to come.

And then, I experienced that embrace and support firsthand. When the news broke, acquaintances from every walk of life, all over the country, called and texted and wrote to tell me I was on their hearts and in their prayers. In the first few days, when I was called to assist with the response and recovery, I was sustained by divisional colleagues who, despite their own heavy hearts and workloads, protected me by taking on difficult issues and grueling hours. And when those days stretched into weeks and months, and the media had moved on and the adrenaline had worn off, my friends and colleagues across the University resolutely continued to comfort the grieving and to console and encourage each other so that what strength remained could be shared.

It was in this way, over the past four years, our defiant declaration was realized. Our community has been forged tear by tear, word by word, hug by hug, step by step, arm in arm. That’s why, though the entire world has changed, the resolve and will and compassion that define Niner Nation endure. And it’s why I can say with confidence to every fellow Niner, when all seems senseless and sad: You are safe. Safe to grieve, safe to be vulnerable, safe to be tired and to stumble, and safe to ask for help.

You are safe because you are loved.

Published: April 28, 2023