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At Nearby Bates College, Anxious Hours and Sleepless Nights

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Omar Yaish, 17, woke up on the floor of a friend’s dorm room at Bates College on Friday to face another day of anxious lockdown.

Beyond the boundaries of the college’s leafy campus in Lewiston, Maine, a huge manhunt was underway for the gunman who killed 18 people at a local bar and a bowling alley two nights before. Classes and sports practices were canceled, and the grounds of the 1,800-student liberal arts college were deserted. With the town’s residents under orders to stay at home, students had been told to stay in their dorm rooms.

Some had left town, to wait out the uncertainty with their families elsewhere in Maine, or in New York or Texas. But hundreds of others stayed behind at Bates, and spent Friday trying to fill the empty, isolating hours.

They gathered in dorm lounges to watch news of the manhunt and scroll through email updates from the college administration. They answered phone calls from their worried parents. They got on Zoom video conferences with professors and classmates to talk about how they were doing.

They were allowed to leave their dorms once a day to walk in groups to dining halls on campus and collect takeout meals of burgers, fruit and chicken lo mein.

“It’s been a rough couple of days,” said Mr. Yaish, an international student from Jordan in his first year at Bates. On the night of the shooting, he raced to take shelter at a friend’s dorm, and has been sleeping there ever since under a borrowed blanket. “We just want him to get caught,” he said of the gunman.

Soon after the citywide lockdown was lifted on Friday evening, the college followed suit. But the anxiety that has hung may not fade away quickly, especially with the shooter still at large and with the community only beginning to mourn the loss of so many people.

It has been hard to sleep, students said, so some have been sitting up in one another’s rooms until 2 a.m., trying to make sense of the past two days. They recounted stories of hearing gunshots off campus on Wednesday night and running for cover, or spending hours hiding in the library, gym or dining halls as sirens wailed in the city and their phones buzzed with active-shooter alerts.

Garry W. Jenkins, the president of Bates, said that one college employee had been wounded in the shooting rampage, but declined to provide additional details. He said no Bates students had been hurt or killed.

The inauguration of Mr. Jenkins, who joined the college in July, had been scheduled for Friday but was postponed to avoid bringing visitors to the campus.

The students who had been stuck inside their dorm rooms were born a few years after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and were grade schoolers during the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. They grew up doing classroom lockdown drills and preparing for mass shootings, and on Wednesday night, the muscle memory helped students like Jade Pierce, 19, stay quiet and find a place to hide.

“It was never like I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” she said on Friday as she and two friends sat on an awning roof of their dormitory building, getting some fresh air while trying to abide by the lockdown.

Students were scattered across the campus on the night of the shooting, studying in the library or working out in the gym, Mr. Jenkins said. Many had to spend the night away from their dorms as Bates administrators worked with law enforcement to get clearance to bus them back to their residences the next morning.

Caitlin Chan, 20, a senior, and her hockey teammates had been eating in the dining hall, tired after a long, sweaty skate when they heard about the shooting. Ms. Chan found a place for them to rest, and they used tablecloths as blankets as they waited for the sun to rise.

By Friday, she said, life was a little bit more back to normal. Ms. Chan had a virtual meeting with her thesis adviser to talk about her work on drug and alcohol use among queer youth in Androscoggin County, which surrounds Bates. She did some painting, too.

“I’m trying to be grateful for what I have now and not thinking too much big picture,” she said. “Taking it day by day.”

Students who lived through the lockdown said it felt both inevitable and unimaginable. On a campus messaging app, some students vented their anger at the country’s epidemic of mass gun violence. Others just tried to occupy their minds with games of Scrabble and cards.

“It’s still hard to comprehend,” said Connor Gerraughty, 19, a sophomore who has been trying not to watch the news. “I remember Newtown. I remember my dad picking me up from school.”

Evan Wells, 21, a senior from Gardiner, Maine, said that what happened on Wednesday felt like the inevitable outcome of two of America’s biggest challenges. “A lot of people deal with mental problems,” he said. “When there’s that much availability of guns, especially AR-15s in Maine, it’s just a matter of time before the two things collide.”

Mr. Wells and his three suitemates spent Thursday watching “The Sopranos” and working out by doing pull-ups on a bar hung over their dorm-room door. Mr. Wells tried to work on his thesis about the out-of-court comments of Supreme Court justices, but he could not focus.

By Friday, he felt the danger had passed, and so decided to drive the half-hour to his parents’ house. He wanted to be able to take a walk with Loki, his Chihuahua-pug mix, and be with his parents.

“It was a difficult time, especially being from Maine,” he said. “It was important to see them.”

Sydney Cromwell contributed reporting.

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