A young woman walks alone at 4 a.m. She’s barefoot, perhaps with heels in hand, heading back to her apartment.
Have you ever seen this young woman? Have you ever been this young woman?
I know I have.
Indiana University student Lauren Spierer has been missing since Friday morning at approximately 4 a.m. When last seen, the 20-year-old sophomore was wearing long, back stretch pants, a white shirt, and no shoes, by the intersection of 11th and College, an intersection so familiar to me I get a mental image as soon as I hear or read it.
The picture accompanying the news stories I’ve been reading shows a pretty, tan blonde with a confident smile. Based on what I’ve read, she was at Kilroy’s Sports Bar and later, a house party. Her keys were found, but despite search efforts—which includes an impressive social networking effort—she’s still missing.
Any time I read a story about a missing young woman, my heart lurches in an incredibly specific way and I feel a sick sort of worry in my stomach. But in this instance, it feels even more shocking. It’s hard not to think: That could have been me.
Spierer was heading home to Smallwood apartments, a locale that I actually became more familiar with after I graduated from IU and was working for the university. My boyfriend at the time lived in Smallwood. (I often felt ridiculous, out of place, and/or annoyed walking in Smallwood, but that’s a story for another day.) As a student, Smallwood was not my haunt, if you will, but if you say “Smallwood,” to an IU student, he or she knows immediately where and what you’re talking about—it was one of the nicest and often coveted apartment locations around campus. So many times, heading out from Smallwood, we walked to the nearby bars and stumbled back at the late hours of the morning. Yes, nine times out of 10 I was with my boyfriend, or a group of friends, but even if you swear to yourself, “I’ll never walk home by myself late at night,” well, shit happens.
You’d think, you’d hope, that in a college town like Bloomington, a young woman—or man—should be able to safely walk home no matter what time of night or day. Maybe Spierer lost her friends at the party. Maybe she’d gotten in a fight with a friend or boyfriend and decided to head back alone. Maybe she was drunk and it didn’t cross her mind that it might be dangerous to walk home alone. Maybe she was sober and it didn’t cross her mind. Who knows. And who cares! Finding her is what matters now.
When I think, That could have been me, it is with a huge feeling of sadness for Spierer, her family, and her friends. Because it could have been any one. Even though as a student and a young staff member at the university, nine times out of 10, I never walked alone late at night, I keep thinking, maybe this was Spierer’s one out of 10 occurrence.
And it shouldn’t matter that it was 4:30 a.m. and she was heading home from a night out. What about night classes? I remember leaving certain classes after dark and actually feeling afraid to cross certain parts of campus alone. I would always mentally chide myself for being ridiculous, but there were many parts of campus not well-lit at all. Oh, sure, there was the “blue light” emergency system, but what a joke! What was I gonna do, hit the magical blue light and then stand there until my rescue came? Yeah right. My ass would have ran halfway across campus (if I was lucky) by the time any one showed up.
It’s not ridiculous to have such thoughts. I remember one night when my friends and I left a bar—the other Kilroy’s, as a matter of fact—I had an uneasy feeling that a man was following us. I’d spotted him in the bar earlier, staring so intensely at the three of us that I felt violated. As we turned the corner to head back toward the car, I looked back, and there he was. At that point, I didn’t care whether it was ridiculous or not: I told my friends to haul their asses to the car. When I slammed my door shut, my hands shaking, my friend Lindsay gasped. I looked out the window, and he had exposed himself and was leering at us. We sped away, shaky and freaked out, but safe.
I can only imagine how that scene might have ended if any of us had been alone, without a car to run to and lock the doors.
I’m picturing 20-year-old Lauren, still in town for the first summer session, heading out for a night with her friends. I remember being 20 and still in Bloomington for summer school—in spite of hating summer classes (who likes them?)—it was one of my favorite times in Bloomington. When I wasn’t in class or working, I was hanging out with my friends, laying out at the pool, sitting out on our apartment balcony, and yes, doing things I may or may not have supposed to be doing, like using my fake ID to get into the emptier-than-usual campus bars. I definitely put myself in much riskier situations than simply walking home at 4 a.m. without any shoes.
Stories like this are a harsh reminder that no matter where you live—whether it’s a college town or a big city—that anything could happen, at any time. I hope with all of my heart that Lauren Spierer can safely return to her normal life as an apparel and merchandising major, and that she’ll soon be headed for her summer internship with Anthropologie in New York. Please pray, send warm thoughts, a message to the universe, or whatever it is you personally do in this sort of situation, for Lauren and her family.
From IU Bloomington’s site:
IU student Lauren Spierer has been missing since June 3 and was last seen at 4:15 a.m. on 11th St. and College Ave. in Bloomington, IN. If you have any information about her disappearance, please call the Bloomington Police Department at 812-339-4477, or the IU Police Department at 812-855-4111.
Go to: https://protect.iu.edu/lauren for details.