Catholic University Campus “Shelter in Place” Two Nights in a Row After Armed Gunman Roams Campus

View from Monroe Street as cop cars line the road on December 8.
View from Monroe Street as cop cars line the road on December 8.

By Tower Staff

A custodian was held at gunpoint by a man in Pangborn Hall claiming he was going to place a bomb in the main university office, resulting in two straight nights of shelter in place situations.

The University was on lockdown for an hour and a half early Tuesday morning following the initial report of a gunman on campus. Fifteen hours later, the University issued a second shelter in place warning after a Metropolitan Police Department officer believed to have seen the suspected gunman. After being detained, police determined the suspect was not involved in the previous night’s event. The suspect is still at large.

While taking out the garbage late Monday night, the custodian said a man pulled a handgun out and held it to his head and asked for directions to the “main campus building,” according to a police report.

The report describes the suspect as a “Middle Eastern male, late teens to early twenties in age, thin build, tall 6’0-6’5 in height, wearing a blue dress shirt, black blazer, black dress pants, black pointed dress shoes” and that he had a “tan cross over bag.” The police report states that after demanding the location of “the main campus building” the victim directed the armed man to Leahy Hall. The suspect informed the victim “he was going to place a bomb in the main university office and that he wanted to drink/taste the blood,” according to the police report issued at 2:33 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The suspect also claimed that he was affiliated with the ISIS terrorist group.

At that time, DPS attempted to isolate an image of the suspect from Monday night from CCTV footage and dispatched officers around campus. After interviewing the witness, DPS deemed the threat credible and at 1:15am, the shelter-in-place alert was sent out and the back-up communications center in the Columbus School of Law was activated. The MPD Explosive Ordinance Unit evacuated Pangborn and Leahy Halls and conducted bomb sweeps of both buildings before deeming them safe.

After concluding that the campus was safe, the shelter-in-place was lifted at approximately 2:50a.m.

However, certain information that was released in the official MPD Public Incident Report was not conveyed in communications sent out by the University. The official report states that the armed suspect followed the custodial employee out of Pangborn Hall as the worker removed garbage. The suspect, armed with a “chrome in color semi automatic handgun” approached the worker from behind and pointed the weapon at the victim’s head.

At 8:08 p.m. Tuesday, students and staff across campus heard the blare of sirens and the following automated message from the All-Campus Alert outdoor speaker system telling students to “shelter in place immediately and await further instructions.” The alert told students this was not a drill.

The second shelter-in-place was enforced on Tuesday evening, according to the University, after MPD “saw a young man whose description matched that of the suspect seen on campus.” The individual was detained, interrogated, and had his car searched. After further interviews and investigation, it was determined the person of interest was “a member of the CUA community and had every right to be on campus.”

Officers from both the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the MPD responded to the report, bringing the custodial worker from Monday’s event to identify the suspect. The custodial worker deemed the individual was not the armed suspect, according to reports from the University. The second shelter-in-place was lifted at around 9:54pm.

During Tuesday evening’s shelter in place, MPD instructed DPS to evacuate Mullen Library due to concerns the person of interest was inside. This information was not released to the University community until Wednesday afternoon.

Following the second incident, President Garvey held a meeting with the Emergency Council which advised that no credible threat was present on campus and no reason to cancel class. However, classes on Wednesday were delayed until 11a.m. to “help our students begin to regroup and to start processing two difficult days.” The University stated that a “return to a sense of normalcy was an important and appropriate step for our community.”

“As we begin to move forward as a community after the events of the last two days, we want to reassure you that every step is being taken to make the campus as safe as possible,” said the Emergency Council which includes University President John Garvey in an email sent Wednesday to the campus community.

To help aid students seeking support following the events, the Campus Ministry office, the Dean of Students office, and the Counseling Center provided walk-in hours on Wednesday to support students.

The University continues to advise the CUA community to report any suspicious activity to either DPS or MPD immediately.

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