By Jimmy Cassidy
Catholic University students were told to shelter in place early Wednesday morning as Metropolitan Police officers searched campus for a possibly armed suspect.
The alerts lasted for about an hour, starting at 2:27 AM before the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) issued an “all-clear” and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) lifted the lockdown.
Following a shooting and robbery in Montgomery County, Maryland, DPS had been informed around 2 AM of the suspects crashing a black Nissan Sentra near the Taylor Street bridge on the north side of campus. One suspect was apprehended and and a firearm was recovered at the scene of the crash. The other suspect fled into the woods adjacent to campus, close to Opus Hall. That second suspect was not located by law enforcement.
Students and faculty learned of the details of the shelter in place in follow-up emails from both university President John Garvey and the Office of Marketing and Communications. During a more thorough search of the campus later Wednesday morning, MPD recovered another weapon in the wooded area.
Many Catholic students were woken up by the alerts, some were advised to stay put in the library, and a group of freshman got even closer than they would have hoped.
“We were walking back to Flather around 2 in the morning and we saw some guy sprint into the woods, which we didn’t think much of, but then there were DPS officers sprinting after him too,” one said.
Beginning just before 2:30 AM Wednesday, the university community received a series of alerts via email, text, and calls directing those on campus to shelter in place immediately. An update followed about 10 minutes later with the information that the MPD was on campus searching for a possibly armed suspect. Three more alerts with no additional information were sent as updates into the 3 o’clock hour in the morning. At 3:30 AM, a final update informed the campus that the MPD had conducted its search and given an all clear. DPS continued to monitor campus throughout the night.
For upperclassmen who were at Catholic in first semester of 2015, this kind of alert is unfortunately a familiar one. Many likely thought of two consecutive nights during the week before final exams in December 2015 in which the campus was on lockdown after the report of a possible gunman on campus. In this incident, D.C. police received reports that a custodial worker was approached by a man with a gun asking for directions to the administration building on campus.
One consensus after Wednesday morning was a satisfaction in the university’s communication efforts. Zanas Talley, a Resident Assistant in Opus Hall, the closest campus building to where one suspect reportedly fled, was thankful for the quick response.
“Having been on campus in 2015, the communication in response to the event early this Wednesday was comparatively better,” Talley said. “In fact, I am very satisfied with the promptness and clarity of the communication by the University during the situation this morning.”
Many architecture students like senior Gabby Vera were working late into the night in the Crough Architecture building when they received the alerts. Although there was understandable concern about the building’s large windows and several entry points, the consistent updates reassured those in studio.
“I think the university did an extremely good job of sending the initial alert out on various platforms — phone calls, text message, even on social media like Twitter and Instagram stories — and really helped us have a sense of reassurance throughout the duration of the shelter in place,” Vera said.
Garvey thanked those involved for handling the situation in his letter to the university community.
“I am grateful to the Department of Public Safety for their timely and thorough collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department and for coordinating with members of our communications staff. These types of situations require prioritizing the safety of our community members and communicating the facts as they become available,” Garvey said. “I also want to thank our students for their cooperation and for the residence hall directors for their support.”