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BB gun in dorm leads to evacuation and charges

By Christian Felkl, Pine Needle Editor, and Tiffany Schmidt, Layout Editor

After receiving a tip that a student had a gun on Nov. 19, University police sprang into action, sweeping the residence halls and evacuating North Hall, locating what turned out to be a BB gun hidden in a ceiling and, finally, charging two students at 3 a.m. with bringing a weapon on campus.

the gun Police Chief McDuffie Cummings said the 911 tips and information from witnesses helped the police respond and make a quick arrest.

Lt. Derrick Locklear said the students were visiting another student in a dorm room around 10:40 p.m. on Nov. 19 when someone saw one of them with what appeared to be a gun under his clothing.

"UNCP Police received a 911 call reporting that two male subjects, one with a weapon, were standing outside West Hall," according to a media release.

Anonymous tips

"They didn't specify if it was a handgun, shot gun, or anything like that," Lt. Locklear said. "They said they saw him take the weapon from inside of the jacket, wave it around and then conceal it back to his person."

Lt. Locklear said that upon receiving the tip, he and four other officers immediately walked over to make a sweep of t h e t h i r d floor of We s t Hall.

"At this point in time our weapons are tactically in a ready position," he s a i d . " B a s i c a l l y what that means is if you saw us you would see our weapons were out of the holster."

Lt. Locklear said that after s w e e p - ing the entire third floor at West Hall a second phone call notified the police that the students had seen the officers and left West to go to North and gave a possible room number.

Lt. Locklear said the officers told everyone they saw to go to their rooms, lock their doors and stay inside. Pembroke police and campus officers were stationed at each door.

After going upstairs to a room on the sixth floor, Lt. Locklear said they identified four females and three males sitting on the beds.

Dorm sweep

"We asked them if anybody had any weapons of any kind. Nobody said they did; nobody said they did not," he said.

Each resident was pulled out one by one and patted down, Lt. Locklear said.

"As that count was completed, we went to the legal occupants of that room and brought them back to stand by at the door while we went into the room to do a thorough search to see if we could locate any weapons," he said.

Lt. Locklear said that was unsuccessful, so they met with the witness who had been calling 911. The description of the clothing matched some clothing found in the room.

Evacuation

At that time, police pulled the fire alarm to evacuate North Hall for the safety of the residents and to see if the witness could identify the person he saw from the third floor of Belk Hall.

Students were directed to the University Center until further notice.

A third call tipped the police that what they were looking for was in the ceiling of the room," Lt. Locklear said.

BB gun

Officers searched the room a second time and found a BB gun under a ceiling tile, Lt. Locklear .

"The BB gun had strong similarities or resemblance of an actual lethal firearm. If you put those two side by side, you probably could not make that distinction yourself," he said.

After finding the weapon, students were allowed to return to their rooms. Police teams set up around North Hall patrolled the area to make sure that those seven students from that room did not go back into the building until the police interviewed them.

"Even though we had located a BB gun in the ceiling, we knew there were two people because we just don't know if there was one weapon or two weapons at the point in time," Lt. Locklear said.

After the interview, "[we] pretty much got the information that we were looking for, who the responsible persons were and who had the weapon," Lt. Locklear said.

"One of the females was put in a position where [one of the suspects] made a threat to her to not tell where the weapon was," the lieutenant said. "So at that point in time, we used those folks for our advantage and for the campus community advantage. Without their help, we probably would not be having success as far as where this weapon is today."

The search

According to police, they made several laps around campus looking for the two men believed to have hidden the BB gun. Lt. Locklear said that around 3 a.m. the two men came to the office on their own for questioning.

The two students were charged on the campus and state level with possessing a weapon on campus, and resisting, delaying and obstructing law enforcement.

No one was injured as a result of the incident.

Chief Cummings said that if the suspect would have used that BB gun as a means to an armed robbery or something of that nature, it would have boosted up to a felony charge. But just the fact that he had it on his person only makes it a misdemeanor.

According to the University police, it is against University policy and state law to possess a weapon on any educational property. If the University police discover a weapon on campus, the suspects are charged.

The University police do not recognize concealed carry permits and do not allow a weapon to be possessed while on properties belonging to UNCP.

Debriefing

Lt. Locklear said that after reflecting on the incident at the briefing, he made some decisions that probably should have gone differently.

"There was a lot of information that was just coming in that we were so close. You have to ask yourself are you dealing with an active shooter this time, and of course you're not," he said.

He said that the residents in North Hall needed to know because that is where the immediate threat was.

"So finding the suspects was my immediate concern. Finding this weapon was my immediate concern," he said.

Chief Cummings said that "it was one of those tough situations, and I think talking with Lt. Locklear and the information that they had they knew it was confined to one building, so those officers were able to secure that building and monitor what was going on."

Lt. Locklear said that as an agency, the University police constantly discuss how they can improve security measures.

"I'm sure over the next few days there are going to be some things here we can study and research on how to do better or what kind of precautionary measures we may try to implement," he said.

Active shooter not used

On Oct. 10, the University staged an active shooter exercise to simulate an armed shooter on campus to test the emergency systems in place. Those plans were not activated in this incident.

Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs Neil Hawk said that the active shooter plans were not put into action because the suspect was not a shooter, but "someone with a gun, not accosting somebody with a gun."

"I don't know if that was the difference or not, but it may have been the reason that [the police] handled it differently," he said. "I guess you really have to be there and be a part of the process to really know how they perceive the incident and how serious it was. My belief was that they didn't perceive it as a serious threat and, therefore, didn't alert the campus as a whole."

Referring to pulling the fire alarm, Hawk said that police officers need to make decisions on the spur of the moment based on the circumstances and "for me to sit here in this office and try to second guess what they did, I'm not going to do that because I wasn't there."

"At that moment, they obviously thought the best thing to do was to get everybody out of that building as quickly as possible, and his way of doing that was to pull the alarm," he said.

Security precautions

Hawk said that security guards work in the dorms in the evenings, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

A contract through Housing states that if they have an incident to report, they report directly to police and police respond.

No changes in police procedures or safety measures have been initiated as a result of this incident, according to Hawk.

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said that he is in the process of reviewing the incident and seeing if anything needs to be done to change how the situation was handled.

"They got the call and went to see if they could verify it or not. You don't want to overreact. You start overreacting and people start [panicking]," he said. "It's like pulling the fire alarm. Some students tell me every night somebody pulls that fire alarm, and we have to get out and go outside. Of course, if you do that enough, nobody pays attention to it and when you have a real fire you got a problem."

The Chancellor said that when the police pulled the fire alarm, they probably felt the odds were at a certain percentage and needed to evacuate the building.

"At that point when they thought it was really likely that someone had a firearm, they felt at that point should we have kicked in the [active shooter system] and that's what we have to investigate," he said.

"I was probably okay with what they did, trying to verify with not active shooting. It wasn't an active shooter; it was a gun," the Chancellor added. "Had there been a shot fired that changes everything."

"I don't criticize [the police] for the first couple of steps, but I think we need to look at what we did around step three or four, because when you pull that fire alarm maybe that's when we should have gone, and I'm saying should because I need to see the whole report, into the active shooter," Dr. Meadors said. "In my mind, up to that point they probably were handling it very well."

"We're going to have to review the whole thing. It's apparent we didn't do as well as we should have.

"I'm thankful that it was a fake one so we learn from it," the Chancellor said.

Dr. Meadors said that in the event of a similar situation something like an emergency alert should be on the UNCP website explaining what happened and where students should go.

Vice Chancellor for University and Community Relations Dr. Glenn Burnette issued the following statement to The Pine Needle:

"UNCP's administration is continually reviewing its safety policies and procedures on campus to make the campus as safe as possible for students, faculty and staff. Due to our unending commitment to campus safety, we evaluate every incident and its response on campus to determine what practices worked well and what practices need improvement," the statement said.

Holiday precautions

"The holiday season is fast approaching and it has been our experience that we may have some breaking and entering and larcenies occur on campus during the holiday season.

The University Police would like to take this time to remind the campus community to double check your windows and doors before you leave campus. If at all possible, take items such as laptops, game systems, cameras, and musical equipment with you during the holidays," according to an email from Crime Prevention Officer Det. Ed Locklear.

 

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Updated: December 6, 2008
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