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Ohio State Student Reporter Recalls Previous Interview With Attacker

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Kevin Stankiewicz heard there had been an attack on Ohio State University's campus, the first thing he did was pull out a notebook and pencil. He's a reporter at the student newspaper at OSU - The Lantern. He spent Monday working with a team of student journalists trying to gather information. At around 1:30, Kevin got a call from his journalism mentor telling him the attacker was Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a student Stankiewicz had interviewed just a few months before. Kevin Stankiewicz, thank you for joining us.

KEVIN STANKIEWICZ: Hi, Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about how you came to interview the attacker just earlier this year.

STANKIEWICZ: It was the first day of class when I talked to Abdul, and it was part of the Humans of Ohio State feature that we had been starting up for the semesters. So I went out on the first day of class and was just looking for a student who wasn't too busy and - you know, I didn't want to intrude on anybody. He was sitting at a table outside of a classroom building that he had class in in about a half hour. And I kind of saw him and I'm like, well, he doesn't look like he's too busy. So I just came up and introduced myself, and then we ended up talking for about 20 minutes.

SHAPIRO: And what was the big takeaway from your conversation with him?

STANKIEWICZ: My biggest takeaway and kind of, like, the most impactful thing at the moment was just the way he spoke about his religion and kind of some of the fears that he had coming to the campus. It was the first day, and so he had just transferred from a local community college.

And when I asked just how his first day was going, he said, I'm enjoying it, but there's this one problem, that problem being he wasn't familiar with the prayer room on campus. And he expressed some concerns about praying in the open on campus because he was just unaware of what the climate was like at Ohio State.

SHAPIRO: He's Muslim, a Somali immigrant and was concerned that if he prayed in public, he could be harassed or attacked or subjected to violence or discrimination.

STANKIEWICZ: Kind of how that came up is he, you know, ticked off a list of some of the examples of Islamophobia that had been happening in the media. There was a man in Avon who was just speaking Arabic in a parking lot and the police were called on him. And he just was not sure what the perception of him down praying would be.

SHAPIRO: So how do you make sense of this person who seemed very sympathetic when you met him, who was concerned about Muslims being falsely accused of violence, subjected to violence, then going and this week committing this terrible act of violence?

STANKIEWICZ: Yeah, I mean, it's certainly the - the person I talked to on August 23 was a different person who quite simply just tried to kill people and inflict terror on Monday. And it's been a - really hard this week to try and look at those two portraits and the two individuals, one who was very thoughtful and engaging and generous with his time to me, and then one who sent the campus into a frenzy. And there's just so many questions and I really do not know what the answer is, and I don't know even if the investigation will, you know, really settle on one answer.

SHAPIRO: You wrote in The Washington Post this week that a lot of people have asked whether this has made you rethink what you wrote about that interview back in August. And you say you stand by what you wrote and you wouldn't have changed it. Explain that.

STANKIEWICZ: I mean, I think if anything, having written what I wrote has kind of added something to the conversation and people have asked, you know, you were duped. You've - I mean, people have, you know, said some pretty, pretty nasty things, both about the entire incident and sort of at my original story. But I think what's important to - about that is the story might offer just some insight of how quickly things can change. And so I do not wish I kept walking on that Tuesday evening. I don't wish I, you know, wrote something different. I definitely stand by what I wrote and, you know, I hope that it has added something to the conversation, and I think it has.

SHAPIRO: That's Kevin Stankiewicz, a reporter with The Lantern, the student newspaper at The Ohio State University. Thanks for talking with us.

STANKIEWICZ: Thank you, Ari, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.