Student Reactions to “Shelter in Place” Incidents

Students share their experiences and feelings about the recent "Shelter in Place" incidents that took place at Catholic University on December 7 and 8.
Students share their experiences and feelings about the recent “Shelter in Place” incidents that took place at Catholic University on December 7 and 8.

By Paige Wearmouth

Following reports of an armed suspect on campus, terroristic threats, and a series of Shelter in Place events, students at The Catholic University of America complained that the University’s response was poor due to its delay and lack of transparency.

“We’re disappointed with the school’s reaction and lack of information given to students,” said Christopher Motola, a junior Politics major.

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) was alerted at 10:30 p.m. that a custodial worker was threatened by a man with a gun outside of Pangborn Hall. It was not until 1:15 a.m. Tuesday that students were notified, through a campus alert of a “possible armed suspect,” and advised to shelter in place until further notice while authorities investigated the situation.

While the alert only mentioned the possibility of an armed suspect, the official MPD report detailed the suspect brandished a semi-automatic handgun, threatened to put a bomb in “the main university building,” and claimed to be affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organization (ISIS).

Students expressed dismay at the decision of the administration to hold classes on the day following a second campus lockdown after a Metropolitan Police officer thought he saw a man who fit the description of the suspect from the previous night as well as the lack of detail in the initial report.

The University sent out a second Shelter in Place through the Rave alert system Tuesday night advising all students and faculty to remain where they were until further notice. The alerts, which came as successive text messages, emails, and phone calls, were also sent out to parents and guardians of students. Following interrogation, the man who fit the description was released with no charges.

Additionally, students complained they were not notified that Mullen Library had been evacuated until 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday when they received an email from the University’s Emergency Council. In that email, the University reassured students of the level of precaution being taken by the school and local authorities.

“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 Council, which includes President John Garvey, in an email to students.

However, many students were confused and distressed following the event. Some students complained of confusing announcements, while others said they had trouble getting in contact with DPS during the lockdown.

“I feel unsafe. I personally have not seen more police presence. I feel like the school isn’t sharing information with us and there are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Rania Abousleiman, a junior Nursing major.

Many students felt that the University’s reaction during the second event was better than the first event. Late Tuesday night, University President John Garvey sent an email to students stating that classes for the following day would be delayed until 11 a.m. to compensate for the disruption of the students’ schedules.

This caused concern for many who believed the campus was still in danger and that classes should be cancelled. A Facebook event, “Not feeling Safe Enough to Attend Class Tomorrow” gained the support of more than 380 students within several hours and was a place of discussion between students and even some parents.

Some students, including Tom Lahey, a senior Politics major, believed that Catholic University students should not alter their normal routines, but instead should go to class despite fear.

“Students should confront their fear by carrying on with their schedules and routines and not be deterred to live their lives as normal,” said Lahey. “Altering our way of life and cowering in fear is exactly what those who intend on inflicting terror on us want.”

Christopher Mulcahey, a junior Politics major and the Treasurer of the Student Government Association (SGA) said that despite concerns, students should not allow these events to disrupt their lives.
“I think there’s a lot of questions on students’ minds right now,” said Mulcahey. “I think it’s important that we maintain a sense of calm in the wake of what’s going on.”

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