Fake gun triggers lockdown: Reports of shootings unfounded

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Fake gun triggers lockdown: Reports of shootings unfounded

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A helicopter stalked the dark sky over SLU’s campus Wednesday evening, streaming footage of a two-hour search for a gunman who didn’t exist. Meanwhile, students all over campus worriedly sought shelter and answers.

At 8:46 p.m., approximately four hours after two students first reported that they had seen someone walk into Spring Hall with a handgun, an update was sent to the SLU community stating that two students of interest had been identified and questioned. The first student was determined to have no involvement in the incident, and was released. The second student “had been carrying a toy gun,” according to the incident report.

“No shots were fired; there was not a real handgun on campus.”

This final report came as a great relief to some, and further confused many others. Just hours before issuing the incident update, University Safety and Emergency Preparedness had issued two SLU alerts, reporting two separate gun-related incidents on campus.

The first alert was sent at 5:20 p.m. It read: “male wearing blk hoodie possibly with hand gun in spring hall.”

Junior RA Holly Kleinschmidt was 40 minutes into her shift at the Spring Hall front desk when two students, one of whom reportedly a member of Air Force ROTC, approached her about a gunman in the building.

“Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary until roughly 4:40 p.m., when two students came into Spring Hall, claiming that they had seen a person walk into Spring Hall with a gun,” said Kleinschmidt.

Shortly thereafter, DPS, SLMPD officers and Spring Hall staff members gathered in the residence hall’s lobby. They shut down the residential side of the building and herded other students into classrooms in the south wing of the building.

“From there, the RAs were sent to their floors to evacuate everyone,” said Junior RA Matt Ramsey. “We had to go door-to-door. My voice was quivering. My legs were shaking.”

At 5:35 p.m. people came flooding out of Spring Hall toward the Simon Recreation Center, where they were to be locked down until further notice. Students nervously huddled in blankets; others ran across the parking lot, away from the reported threat of an active shooter.

The second alert came as students were still moving toward the Rec Center: “Shots fired outside Marchetti East shelter in place.”

Inside the Rec, students were sprawled across basketball courts, hurriedly typing messages to friends and loved ones. A news chopper began live-streaming the investigation on Facebook, spurring the circulation of information and misinformation across social media.

“There were so many rumors,” said freshman Spring resident Avery Lubbes.

One such rumor was connected to a photo that was circulated in campus group chats. The photo was of one of the students of interest, who was later identified as having no connection to the incident.

The student was identified by the two initial witnesses who saw his photo on a Spring Hall check-in computer, according to Kleinschmidt.

“The witnesses gave us someone to look for and that’s who we found. It was the wrong person,” said DPS Sergeant Pat Signorino, shortly after he started allowing students back into Spring.

Other rumors were disseminated and expanded upon by SLU students eagerly awaiting an official statement. The campus remained locked down for nearly two hours — two hours of online conjecture and guesswork.

“It was interesting to see how quickly news got around,” said freshman Spring resident Mary Jines, one of many students receiving updates through various online channels. These “updates,” as it turns out, were little more than hearsay.

“Let this be an example that illustrates the inciting effects of the rapid spread of misinformation, even in times of potential crisis,” tweeted Senior Mack Korris.

Officers soon discovered that the weapon from the initial report “was actually a wooden rubber band gun painted gold that the engineering students supposedly created for a project,” said Kleinschmidt.

An official “all clear” was tweeted and texted to the campus community at 7:16 p.m., after “authorities found no evidence of shots fired and no injuries,” according to the incident update.

Soon after, Spring Hall residents were allowed to re-enter the building, and Kleinschmidt, after a long evening of questioning, was “allowed to go get dinner and call [her] parents who were freaking out the entire time.”