In music and words, the Delaware State University community on Thursday honored a student mortally wounded in a campus shooting, but the most striking words may have come from the victim herself.
Two days before she and another student were shot Sept. 21, DSU freshman Shalita Middletown wrote an autobiographical essay for an English composition class.
In the essay, read at Thursday’s memorial service, Middleton recounted her tomboy childhood growing up in Washington, D.C., her success in high school, and the years leading up to her enrollment at Delaware State.
“Now that I am in college, I feel there’s a lot more I haven’t learned about me that I will,” she wrote. “And I also believe that my next autobiography will be a book.”
Middleton, a 17-year-old cheerleader and biology major, never got a chance to write her book. Her life story ended Oct. 23 when she died at Christiana Hospital in Newark, more than a month after she was shot.
“We cannot make sense out of nonsense,” DSU president Allen Sessoms said Thursday, adding that the best way for members of the campus community to honor Middleton is to achieve the success that the promising student never had the opportunity to attain.
Calvin Wilson, a member of the school’s board of trustees, also urged members of the audience to better themselves.
“This is a time to grieve, but it’s also a time to grow,” Wilson said.
School administrators said Middleton, inspired by police dramas on television to become a forensic biologist, had set high standards and expectations for herself and made an impression in her few short weeks on campus.
“She was excited just to be in college,” said Leonard Davis, chair of the biology department. “She surely was going to become a success.”
Davis announced that the school is establishing a memorial scholarship in Middleton’s name for promising undergraduates majoring in forensic biology.
Middleton’s mother, Lavita Middleton, accepted a plaque from Sessoms but did not speak during the ceremony.
Joe Rhoades, an attorney serving as a family spokesman, read a proclamation from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner calling on Delawareans to honor Middleton’s memory.
“To her family, Shalita was one of a kind,” Rhoades said. “She was the family’s shining star. She was a vibrant, outgoing young woman who always had a smile on her face. She attacked life.”
Rhoades said Middleton came to DSU “with energy and unbridled hope for the future.” He urged students to remember why they came to college, put aside their differences, embrace their similarities, and recognize that they are fortunate to be involved in higher education.
“Take advantage of your God-given talent and the opportunities you’ve been given,” Rhoades said. “Please, for her sake, don’t waste yours.”
Among those attending the service was deputy attorney general Christina Showalter, who is involved in prosecuting the suspected gunman, Loyer D. Braden.
According to investigators, Braden, a freshman from East Orange, N.J., was involved in a fight with another student three days before the shooting, and the two confronted each other again at a campus cafe on the night of the shooting. Middleton was among those who tried to defuse the altercation in the cafe.
Investigators said Braden left the cafe shortly after Middleton’s group departed, then began shooting at the group as they walked across campus.
Middleton suffered an abdominal wound and Nathaniel Pugh III, another freshman from the District of Columbia, was shot in the ankle.
Braden, has been charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
“Certainly the charges will be upgraded in light of Shalita’s death,” Showalter said as she left the memorial service.
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Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville