By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"What they're doing now, they should've done," says Marcus Davidson, a TSU junior who transferred from the University of Texas. "The [student housing] gates were just wide open. You could just drive straight in...;" Davidson has his own place off campus. "I wouldn't stay on campus because of the security problems."
Raylii Ipki, a community assistant at University Courtyard, says screening of visitors still needs improvement, although students need to control their own behavior rather than blame guards.
"Here people try to 'start' with you," Ipki says. "They don't let problems happen, they make problems. I think it has to do with them wanting people to look at them as big and bad."
Faculty members are also concerned. Instructor Deborah Dirden says she was teaching a night course in her auditorium-style classroom a few days before Sloan was killed. A nonstudent entered, walked up to Dirden's desk on the stage and "hit me across the head with her arm, then she hit me in the eye with her fist," Dirden says.
As the attack continued, "the students started screaming. They saw something which I didn't see. She had a screwdriver and she was trying to stab me." Her class disarmed the woman and held her until police arrived and took her away.
Dirden doesn't know what provoked her attacker and says she doesn't feel as safe as she once did. "Maybe I was just naive thinking that everybody was good because nothing had ever happened. Afterwards, students began telling me things that made them feel uncomfortable." They told her about guns and drugs on campus.
Worries are especially prevalent about a traditional "turf war" between students from Dallas and Houston, which can take on almost ganglike dimensions.
"My homeboy is from Dallas," Robinson says. "He came down to TSU to visit and stayed in the dorm rooms...He got jumped that first day."
Freshman class president Jordan remembers one Houston-Dallas melee from last semester, along the main "Tiger Walk" on campus. "In the old Tarzan movies they have a bunch of black people dressed up in African stuff and they just run and they yell," he says. "I saw that coming down the Tiger Walk one day. And they were punching at the same time.
"Security came out of everywhere, like a swarm. The fight started at Greystone, wound up at University Courtyard, got to the Tiger Walk, and it ended down by the recreation center."
Jordan laughs and shakes his head as he tells the story, but the rivalry is real.
Back in Dallas, Thelma Sloan remembers the night of December 3, when she lay in bed reading bereavement cards with inspirational messages.
She planned to send them to her sister, whose oldest daughter had just died of cancer. But, she says, "As God would have it, they were for me. God was preparing my heart."
At 3 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang. Her cordless battery was dead, so she couldn't hear the caller. The phone rang again. "It was one of those calls where they wouldn't hang up. It just kept ringing and ringing," she says.
Sloan ran into another room to find a second phone for the message about her daughter: "Her friend would be on the line telling me that Ashley just got shot."
The mother has been stoic. "It's really been me trying to get them to understand that though it may have been a tragedy to them, God preordained it."
She keenly remembers an earlier scene, just before Sloan left for her sophomore year. The two shared a heart-to-heart talk. Her daughter told her she never regretted not joining the navy, that she loved the college experience and was looking forward to getting her degree.
"If I can never say it again, I want you to know that I thank you," her mother remembers Sloan saying. It was the kind of conversation that, upon reflection, feels like a good-bye.