Wounded MSU survivor shares story for first time: It will 'forever haunt me'

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Lansing — What he initially thought was someone accidentally dropping a heavy textbook turned out to be the piercing sound of a handgun being fired.

Michigan State University student Troy Forbush recalled the intense moments that forever changed his life: falling to the ground in front of his seat inside his Berkey Hall classroom, then trying to act dead as his assailant closed in on his position.

"As he panned the room with his handgun, I pled for my life and screamed, 'Please don't shoot me.' We were met face to face with pure evil," said Forbush of his encounter with shooter Anthony McRae, 43, of Lansing. "Seconds after being shot clean through the lung — two entrance wounds and two exit wounds — laying in a state of shock that will never leave my mind and forever haunt me."

Michigan State University shooting victim Troy Forbush gets a hug Thursday after speaking at a March for Our Lives Rally in front of the state Capitol in Lansing.

For the first time, Forbush vividly shared details of the Feb. 13 mass shooting in which he was one of five critically wounded on campus, as he spoke Thursday before hundreds of participants at a March for Our Lives rally at the state Capitol.

Forbush described the events in the Berkey Hall classroom where fellow students Arielle Anderson, 19, of Harper Woods and Alexandria Verner, 20, of Clawson were killed. Sophomore Brian Fraser, 20, of Grosse Pointe was killed at the nearby student Union. Four other classmates were injured and one remains hospitalized.

Forbush, a double major in music education and vocal performance, said he and his fellow Spartans were carrying out their normal activities as college students on the night of Feb. 13, some attending class in Berkey Hall and others socializing or studying in the Union before tragedy struck.

After being wounded, Forbush recalled grabbing his phone so he could call his mom and tell her he loved her. At that moment, he said he was only thinking of keeping his eyes open and staying alive so he could tell his mother he loved her.

"I will never forget looking into the eyes of a peer who had taken off his shirt to assist me in applying pressure to my fresh gunshot wounds," Forbush said. "I will never forget him grabbing my hands. The paramedics grabbing my feet and the pain of being dragged to a side aisle for easier means of care. They are lifesavers, and I am forever grateful."

Thursdays' rally was one of several being held nationwide this week to mark the five-year anniversary of March for Our Lives, which was founded in 2018 after a shooter killed 17 students and educators and wounded 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Nearly five years later to the day, three Michigan State University students were killed and five more injured in another mass shooting.

More:'No one is safe anywhere': Mother of MSU shooting survivor pleads for gun control reforms

Forbush had previously written on Facebook that he "took a bullet to my chest" and "had a brush with death" before emergency surgery saved his life. He was the first of five critically wounded students released from Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

When he is alone, Forbush said at the rally, his mind can't help but wander back to that horrific night. While MSU has since announced that the university will be adding locks to classroom doors and updating security measures at night, he said it is too late for Alexandria, Arielle, Brian and the four others who were wounded.

"It should be shocking to everyone that we live in a society that requires places of learning to be heavily secured and locked because we cannot come together in the name of children's safety to end gun violence," Forbush said. "The right to achieve a higher education is sacred, and it should be treated as such by providing us with safe spaces to learn and thrive."

Troy Forbush speaks Thursday afternoon at the March of Our Lives rally on the front steps of the state Capitol in Lansing. The rally marked the five-year anniversary of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 students and educators dead and wounded 17 more.

The student urged lawmakers to pass gun restriction and safety measures during the rally as the Legislature on Thursday sent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a package of bills requiring universal criminal background checks for the purchases of all firearms as well as legislation requiring the safe storage of firearms in homes with children. Legislation for a red flag law, which would temporarily remove guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, is still advancing in the Legislature.

Being a victim of gun violence and a mass shooting survivor is sadly the most relevant experience he will need as a future educator and advocate for student safety, Forbush said.

"As of today, there have been 136 mass shootings in 2023 alone. We are currently at Day 82," he said. "Senators, House representatives and all government officials alike, I just ask one thing of you. Please when voting for current and future gun safety bill packages, think about the people you love, the children in your life whose future awaits them and the lengths you would go to to protect them and make sure they reach that future."

What other speakers said

Forbush's comments were preceded by speeches from other survivors of mass shootings.

"I understand firsthand exactly what the devastating effects of gun violence are and how those effects will continue to follow me for the rest of not just my life, but every single member of my community," said Sam Fuentes, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumna who was injured in the Parkland attack five years ago. "But this crisis is not just unique to my community or my town. ... Gun violence in this country has always been a matter of when and not if."

Joseph Kesto, a board member of the March for Our Lives MSU chapter, shared details about the three victims with the crowd from the Capitol steps. Red flag laws, which allow family members and others to request the courts temporarily take away guns from individuals found to be a threat to themselves and others, could have saved them, Kesto argued.

"America, your children are dying and the ones who live will never be the same. Our classrooms are war zones and it isn't fair. School shootings aren't natural or normal," Kesto said. "So why is it taking so long to enact change? Why are we acting like this is our new normal? Nothing about this is normal."

Lansing police have said the MSU shooter lawfully purchased his handguns and that there were no signs of trouble prior to the shooting rampage. Hours after the shootings on MSU's campus, McRae died from a self-inflicted gunshot when approached by police officers on a street in Lansing, according to police.

More:Note written by MSU shooter asked 'why,' outlined other targets

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Fuentes said March for Our Lives organized waves of walkouts, rallies, lobbying and nationwide marches. She encouraged the crowd to channel their anger, tears and agony into meaningful change.

"We are going to be the generation that ends this cycle and create a network of survivors so that nobody gets left behind so that we can move not on but rather forward," Fuentes said.

The push for safe storage laws in Michigan began after the Oxford High School shooting in November 2021, during which a 15-year-old gunman took the lives of four classmates — Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17.

Oxford High School student Madeline Johnson and Michigan State University sophomore Joseph Kesto speak during the March for Our Lives rally.

Maddie Johnson, a survivor of the Oxford High School shooting, shared details about the four victims from their friends and family. Johnson was one of Madisyn Baldwin's best friends and was walking down the hallway of Oxford High School with her just before the shooting began. Safe gun storage could have saved her classmates, Johnson said.

Ethan Crumbley, the Oxford shooter, used a gun that Oakland County prosecutors say wasn't securely stored in a gunlock case.

"I asked you to remember all of them. I will not let them become another statistic or another tragedy that appears on the news every so often," Johnson said. "If you oppose gun safety legislation, you're blinded by your own ignorance, but you are not immune. I didn't go to school that day thinking that my best friend would be killed before fifth period."

More:Michigan Court of Appeals upholds manslaughter charges against Crumbleys

Gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death in children and teens in the United States, MSU assistant professor Victor Rodriguez-Pereira said.

A university campus should not be the place where anyone goes to die, he said at Thursday's rally.

"For us, educators across the state, the time for talk is over. What we need is action," Rodriguez-Pereira said. "Violence is a complex human phenomenon that requires a vast set of solutions, far beyond only regulating access to guns. But the comprehensive gun legislation Democrats are moving in Michigan is the crucial first step needed."

Sisters Lilah and Zoe Haden have each survived a school shooting in the last two years. Lilah is a junior at Oxford High School and Zoe is a junior at MSU.

"We should not have to frantically text our friends asking if they're alive because there's a shooter. We should not have to do that twice," Zoe Haden said. "My parents should not have to have their children text them telling them that they love them in case they get shot and can never say it again. The fear that I experienced both of those nights will never leave me."

Like most other speakers, the Hadens recalled going through lockdown drills as young as 6 years old in case someone wanted to shoot them at school.

Counter protesters weigh in

A small group of about 10 counterprotesters was present at the rally. A few yelled “come and take it” during calls for gun safety legislation and speeches by school shooting survivors.

About a dozen counter protestors watch on during the March for Our Lives rally Thursday in Lansing for the five-year anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

Ryan Brennan, 27, organized the March to Defend Lives Rally that took place down the street from the Capitol. The goal of the rally was to defend the right to bear arms and the right of citizens to protect themselves and their property, he said. Brennan said gun-free zones around schools should be ended and students should be allowed to protect themselves and carry on campus.

"Predators don't want to go where there's resistance. They want to attack people that cannot defend themselves," Brennan said. "If they know that the only people on campus ... with guns are going to be the criminal and the police officer that is probably 20-30 minutes away, they're more than likely to attack those people."