The Elon alumnus was riding the subway just one Metro stop away from the Maelbeek station when the blast occurred on March 22.
Elon graduate Mykel Dodson was at the Brussels Schuman railway station about 9 a.m. when the terrorist bomb detonated at the neighboring Maelbeek station about 100 yards away. The power went out for a bit, the doors to the car opened and police told Dodson and his fellow passengers they had to leave the station.
“I think most people thought it was precautionary because of the previous attacks at the airport … but as they were ushering people up the stairs and out of the station, it became more real, and once we arrived at the street it was pretty hectic,” Dodson said. “We were walked right past Maelbeek Station and that’s where you saw a lot of things that you kind of wished you didn’t see.”
Dodson said the response to the attack was very controlled and there was no panic as first responders and volunteers helped the victims. He kept walking and spent the next hour getting to his apartment. During that time, he said the city was eerily quiet and he was sometimes the only person on the street in parts of Brussels that are normally bustling with activity.
In reflecting on what had happened, he said his experience in being so close to the explosion was very real, “but at the same time, you don’t really realize how much of a difference a minute could have made.”
Dodson said there had been talk of an imminent terrorist attack in Brussels because of the importance of the city in European affairs. But while people in the city weren’t totally surprised at the incident, they were still experiencing shock and disbelief today.
Dodson has praise for the strength of the city and says its citizens are very resilient. People opened their doors to people who were not able to get back home and were doing their best to help one another. “I think we learned a little bit from Paris, since they’re just an hour down the road. It’s going to be a very interesting next few days with all the heightened security.”
Dodson says the fact that terrorists have been able to “hide in plain sight” in Belgium is a hot topic of discussion. There has been talk of changes in surveillance laws and other stronger security measures. “But it’s not so easy in Europe because a lot of the countries really value citizen rights, and they know that these are isolated incidents with really terrible people, and I don’t think they would like their city turned into a police state.”
Dodson is currently a graduate student studying new media at Vrije Universiteit, the Dutch university in Brussels. He arrived in the city last August. In the aftermath of the attacks, he provided these reflections for the members of the Elon community:
“When things like this happen, make sure to keep an open mind … I think it’s important for people to get out of their comfort zone and learn about people, learn about cultures and hopefully make a difference at the grassroots level. There are definitely places that you might put on ‘no fly’ or ‘no visit’ lists, but being scared and being a recluse is definitely not the direction that people should go, especially in a place like Belgium, and Brussels in particular. It’s a really beautiful town with really nice, really super dynamic people. So to my Elon family all around the world, I would just (say) get into your communities, learn about the people and make a difference.”