With students swarming around her, Gaby Hernandez grabbed her bag and phone, crouched on her hands and knees and crawled for safety from the gunman loose in Florida State University’s Strozier Library early Thursday.
Hernandez, 18, and her friend Rachel Shultz, first moved toward the library’s entrance, but “somebody was telling us ‘No, no, no. Don’t go there,” said the Estero High School graduate. They did not know that was the location of Myron May, the man who authorities say shot three of their classmates and was later gunned down by police.
Hernandez and Shultz, who were among the hundreds of students trapped in the library that night, crawled to an open space and ran to a nearby stairwell.
“The first thing I thought when I was running was ‘I’m going to die tonight, and I don’t want to die like this,” said Hernandez, a freshman FSU biology major.
Hernandez and Shultz were on the first floor of the library — the busiest floor — when the first shots were fired. After hearing the “bang,” Hernandez, who arrived at the library around 6 p.m. to prepare for a pre-calculus test, said she looked at her friend and assumed it was the sound of a stack of books falling. But the room quickly devolved into chaos.
“I remember seeing one girl, she was crying,” Hernandez said. “It looked like she was about to scream, but she couldn’t get any words out.”
A couple of floors up, Carlos Barreno, 22, a senior double majoring in psychology and criminology, was with four friends in a windowless study room preparing for an exam when he received an FSU security alert on his cellphone. Barreno, a 2011 Naples High graduate who arrived at the library around 9 p.m., hadn’t heard the gunshots.
“My friend got a phone call and was told there was a shooting on campus,” he said.
They opened the door to the study room and saw library employees and a student on the phone with authorities getting direction on what to do. They ended up gathering with a group of other students — including Hernandez and Shultz — in between the book stacks. One of Barreno’s friends took a cellphone video of the gathering that has gone viral.
“There has been a shooting in the library,” a voice said over a loudspeaker, according to the video. “Stay where you are. We’ll be coming to each floor to clear it and taking care of anybody. If anybody has been ... shot, call 911 on your cellphone.”
The thought that he could die “definitely went through my mind,” Barreno said.
“I was surprisingly calm,” he said.
Looking back, Barreno said the hardest thing for him was knowing he spent several hours studying and going out to the vending machines near the library’s entrance the night before the shooting. He could have been a victim had May attacked a night earlier, he said.
A few months into her first semester at FSU, Hernandez said she’s never felt any danger on campus before Thursday. She regularly spends long evenings in the library, and calls her father — who works nights — when she leaves. The night of the shooting, she called her dad and stayed on the phone with him as the scene was cleared.
Cynthia Hernandez, Gaby’s mom, said she “lost it” when she heard from her husband that her oldest daughter had been at the scene of the shooting.
“My eyes are swollen shut,” the Bonita Springs resident said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been crying all night.”
Gaby Hernandez was planning to go home for Thanksgiving early next week, but is thinking of heading back to Southwest Florida on Friday.
“Honestly, I just want to be home with my family right now,” she said. “I just want to be comforted by my mom and my dad.”
Other students also shared their experiences at the library Thursday.
Allison Kope, a freshman from Cocoa Beach, said she was on the library’s first floor when said she heard a loud noise and then there was a lot of commotion. People were screaming about a gunman and chairs started flipping over, she said.
“You never think something like this is going to happen to you until you have to react in that situation when someone is screaming there is a gun in the building. I ran for my life,” she said. “I ran right out the back door. ... It was shock. It was just instinct. You don’t think about anything else, you just go.”
Daniel Morales, 19, a freshman from Fort Pierce, said that when he first heard someone say “somebody’s got a gun. I thought he was joking.” But after realizing there was a gunman in the library, Morales and others raced to a backroom on the second floor where they barricaded a door with desks.
Freshman Nikolai Hernandez said he was in his dorm room across from the library when he heard five or six rapid gunshots.
“It was a consecutive bop, bop, bop, bop, bop,” Hernandez said. “It makes me definitely a little bit nervous. I was supposed to be in the library. I had a paper to do and I got a little bit lazy and decided not to do it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report