Picayune Woman at DSU campus day of murder
Published 8:44 am Thursday, September 17, 2015
It was just a routine visit. Until it wasn’t.
Darlene Adams was on the Delta State University campus Monday morning. Adams, who is the state president for the Mississippi Federation of Women’s Clubs, was in Cleveland that day with other club members, scouting out a location for the upcoming statewide convention.
Adams was thinking of using Jobe Hall. The plan had been to get to Jobe Hall at 9:30 a.m. and tour the whole building. She needed to check out the technology as well as make sure the classrooms on the second floor could meet club needs for breakout sessions. But Adams and her group, which included Tinker Forrester, the president-elect of the state Women’s Club association, had lingered at the country club too long and they were running late.
Consequently, they were on the first floor when history professor James Robinson, who was to be their liaison, heard a bang from the second story.
“We were on the stage, and there was a faint noise, and then James said, ‘did you hear that?’ And I said, ‘no I didn’t,’ and he said, ‘Oh it must be Tony, the maintenance guy, he must have dropped a table. But of course it was not.”
It was, the Clarion Ledger would later report, a gunshot from a .38-caliber handgun. The murder of history professor Ethan Schmidt and the daylong manhunt for Shannon Lamb, the alleged killer, made international news but Adams, who lived through the day, said she’s not kept up with any of it.
“It’s not because I’m scared,” Adams said. “But my heart breaks for the university and my heart breaks for Cleveland. … It’s not fair now that people may look upon the university or the Delta area as somewhere that’s dangerous, where they wouldn’t want to go visit and enjoy their time.”
The Delta, like most of Mississippi, is a rural place. It’s a place where people aren’t hung up on formalities like titles, and Delta State University is no exception. Delta State is the sort of place where, for instance, the official agenda for the Mississippi Federation of Women’s Clubs planning day will list DSU President William LaForge’s name as Billy. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else.
And Robinson, of course, knew Schmidt. Adams said they had been talking about Schmidt just minutes before the shooting. She was about to meet the man, in fact.
Retired professor Hines Cronin, who was with Adams and Robinson, had just offered to take the whole group upstairs.
“Hines said, ‘I want to take you upstairs to the classrooms because that’s when you can have the breakout sessions or whatever you need,’” Adams said. “He said, ‘Ethan’s upstairs.’”
She explained that Schmidt was going to be available to the club during the state convention, if anyone should need anything.
Adams said she thanks God they did not begin their tour on the second floor.
As it was, by the time they were ready to go upstairs and meet Schmidt, Adams said the head of campus security ran across stage to her group.
“The chief of campus police came on stage, and I hear him say, ‘Get out of the building,’” Adams said. “Hines thought he was joking. He said, ‘I want to introduce you to,’ and he said, ‘Get out of the building.’ And Hinds said ‘What’s going on?’ And the chief said, ‘Get out of the building now.’”
Adams thought the worst.
“Immediately I knew it was a shooter,” she said.
But, even as she and the rest of her party left the building, their hands above their heads, and even as they got herded into a building across the street and even as they sat there, with strangers, in a conference room, for hours, at no point did she ever feel fear.
“When I was going down the three steps after we were told to leave and get out of the building, immediately, and this is after I knew it was the shooter … a peace covered me so thick, I’ve only had that one time in my life where I have felt that and this was the second time,” said Adams.
The first time was a bad cancer scare when doctors told her her prognosis was not good. Despite the news, she felt a settling calm.
“By the time we saw the third doctor, I just had a peace and I knew it would be OK,” she said. “And I went to Johns Hopkins and they saved my life. Or God did.”
She felt that peace again Monday and in that conference room, huddled together with strangers, she began to help others.
“I found myself in this position of calming the professors and calming the students. And it was OK,” she said.
Days after her visit to Delta State, on a sunny afternoon, sitting in her office at the Senior Center, Adams thought about the mercurial nature of that peaceful feeling. It leaves, she believes, by forgetting one’s struggles.
“I don’t want to say this without being too preachy or offend your readers, but sometimes things are covered even before we know it, or they work out even before we know it,” Adams said. “And when you get, when you experience that peace, then you tend to lose it as the weeks go by and the days go by, you need to go back when you’re struggling and know that there is something bigger than us, and there is something we need to … that we need in our lives, and for me that’s my lord and savior and I don’t know what I would do to get me through these times and the days I am not feeling at peace. And I wish everyone had something like that.”