Webster University held remote classes at its Vienna, Austria campus on Tuesday after a terrorist attack took place near the university on Monday night.
The weather was nice in Vienna, Austria on Monday night. Austria was on the verge of entering a lockdown to attempt to control COVID-19. It was the perfect night for people to go out to restaurants and bars. A former Webster University student who asked to remain anonymous, “Julia,” was invited to a café in the first district by her friends. She had to decline to study for an exam.
“I just called everybody on social media having a good evening. And I of course regretted it a bit that I stayed inside and studied but things had to be done. And I was literally studying when I got a call from a family member asking me if I’m okay. And I said, ‘yeah, why?’ And she said there was a shooting in Vienna,” Julia said.
The shooting – which took place at 8 p.m. in Vienna at the Schwedenplatz in the second district – turned out to be a terrorist attack. According to an email released by Webster University, the attack took place only 750 meters from Webster’s Vienna campus. The email went on to say all Tuesday classes would be held remotely on Tuesday as a precaution.
According to Julia, the attack caused confusion and shock. She said people began sharing information and videos on social media sites such as Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook.
“I turned on my WhatsApp and I saw my friends were out in the café, sending videos with people running around outside and saying, ‘Something’s happening. People came running in, people are screaming and we don’t know what’s happening,’ and they barricaded the doors,” Julia said. “I was like, Oh S*** it’s like actually something happened.”
Julia learned the shooting was suspected to be a terrorist attack from a friend in the U.S.. She received messages from friends both in and outside the country asking if she was alright.
For Julia, the attack was a shock. She said people in Vienna had experienced more localized acts of violence – such as shootings between rival gangs in the area. However, Julia said she always thought of terrorist attacks as something which takes place in globally known cities such as London or Paris.
“It was just crazy how this all unfolded, because like, we are not used to this here. Usually we are a very safe city. Nothing ever happens,” Julia said. “You can literally walk home alone when you’re drunk at 3:00 AM in the morning and nothing happens and yeah, and then this happens.”
While the police have worked to keep people informed, Julia said they can only give so much information since the investigation is ongoing. She added that she is impressed by the job the government is doing with getting information out to people, but she said false information began circling quickly. According to Julia, there were even rumors of hostages at a restaurant after a video showed people ducking.
“People heard things from other people and started tweeting it and just panic,” Julia said, “because nobody knew where to go, what to do.”
Julia said she found some relief in learning her friends were safe and allowed to go home at 2 a.m.. However, four people – including a shooter – were killed.
She said police are still investigating the motives, but the police determined the shooters supported the Islamic State. Julia said the attack took place near a Jewish synagogue in the area and near a big Jewish quarter of the city.
“We are hoping for the safety and security of all our Webster community as well as our family and friends in the region. Our thoughts are with them, and they will receive all necessary support during this challenging time,” Chancellor Elizbeth Stroble and President Julian Schuster said in an email sent Monday.
The day after, Julia said Vienna seems like a ghost town. Schools such as Webster have closed out of precaution. While the attack caused shock and anxiety, Julia said the people of Austria are resilient. She said there is a hashtag trending online following the attack.
“[The hashtag] is an Austrian saying for F*** off A**hole,” Julia said. “If this doesn’t tell you everything – this is clearly the defining phrase because apparently a person in the streets yelled that at attackers.”