The Hero Was Asian American in Latest University Shooting, And So Was the Victim - Higher Education
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The Hero Was Asian American in Latest University Shooting, And So Was the Victim


In a colorblind world, unless people come forward and self-identify, it’s hard to get confirmation on a person’s race or ethnicity.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter.

But when you write for the ethnic media, or for publications focused on diversity, race is everything.

You need confirmation.

I couldn’t just go on the fact that Jon Meis looked at least part Asian American.

Certainly, the man who is being hailed as a hero throughout the world for limiting the latest school shooting to just one fatality had that look. You could tell by his face ― Seattle Pacific University student Jon Meis had some multiracial facet in his life.

And then I did get confirmation from at least two family friends. Meis’ father was an engineer at Boeing, but his family had some Asian American blood.

Didn’t change anything. One person was still dead from yet another school shooting. And there was still one word being used the most to describe Meis: hero.

Meis wasn’t a victim, like my cousin Stephen in San Francisco on May 3.

Or the gunman, like half-Asian Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista on May 24.

On Thursday in Seattle, Meis was the hero. The 22-year-old senior was the student monitor in the lobby of Seattle Pacific’s Otto Miller Hall when he saw a gunman, identified as Aaron Ybarra, 26.

According to news accounts, Ybarra — not a student there ― had just sprayed the hall with gunfire with a shotgun, killing one person and wounding two, when he stopped to reload.

That’s when Meis took action, armed only with pepper spray.

Just standard issue stuff. No Sriracha. Nothing deadly.

It was all Meis needed to subdue the gunman and tackle him to the ground. Authorities then came to make the arrest.

Meis wasn’t hurt but was taken to Harborview Medical Center.

But later, one of the students hit by gunfire died. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray identified him as Paul Lee, 19, an Asian American of Korean descent from Portland who was a freshman as SPU.

Abby Danao, a sophomore at SPU studying mechanical engineering told the Seattle Times: “I was shocked. I couldn’t move,” Danao said. “I saw his body on the floor with shotgun shells everywhere.”

So the school mourns Lee, and is lucky that without Meis’ actions, the crime scene could have been much worse.

Meis’ friend Patrick Maguire told KOMO News: “He had a lot to live for and he just acted quick,” Maguire said. “I owe him a beer. A lot more people wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done that.”

Meis is described as a good student and deeply religious. Seattle Pacific is a Christian college.

A family friend, Andrew Engstrom, described Meis to the Seattle Times as “physically and spiritually strong.”

“He’s kind of under the radar, a serious student, but he’s always nice to everyone,” classmate Rebekah Ogimachi added. “It doesn’t surprise me that he would step in to do something like that. He’s a selfless guy.”

Unnamed police sources told KIRO TV News that Ybarra, the suspect, was obsessed with the Columbine High tragedy, where two students killed 15 and injured 21 classmates in 1999. Ybarra is reported to have even visited the high school.

He was not a student at Seattle Pacific University.

But the hero was. And he was just armed with pepper spray.


These shootings are becoming way too commonplace. Not one more?


There will be a lot more if this country doesn’t take a more rational approach to the Second Amendment and find ways to restrict gun access to people who shouldn’t have them.


Until we figure that out, we likely will have one more, and another, and another.


Our modern society is always just a hair-trigger away from being an instant war-zone.


Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at ; Twitter @emilamok.

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