Nov 5, 2013
12:10 PM
Connecticut Today

The CCSU 'Gunman', One Student's View: Fear, Comfort, Response Appropriate

The CCSU 'Gunman', One Student's View: Fear, Comfort, Response Appropriate

An Associated Press photo by Jessica Hill posted by the New Haven Register.

When I’m not at my internship with Connecticut Magazine, I’m taking my final classes at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). On Monday, I arrived early to print an essay for class, and I settled into my chair in front of one of dozens of computers in the printing lab. It was about noon, 15 minutes before class began--enough time to check my emails and maybe browse Facebook for a while … and what was that noise?

A deep, guttural alarm sounded in several short bursts, reverberating across the computer lab. I looked around at my peers and their eyes reflected the same questions I asked myself: Is it a fire alarm? Should we evacuate? I didn’t move. It didn’t sound like any fire alarm I had ever heard, and it had already stopped.

A woman in a sweater, probably the lab manager or some person of authority, emerged from a back room with a look of stark concern on her face. She waved her hands above her head to silence the confused murmurs in the lab.

“Everyone stay put,” she said. “That’s the emergency notification alarm. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know there are cops with guns somewhere on campus and this might be related to that.”

See the university president's statement posted online today and CCSU's news update for students Monday night

Cops with guns? What was going on? The alarm sounded a second time and interrupted my thoughts. This time, an automated message followed the low siren. “This is a campus emergency. Seek shelter and stay away from doors and windows.”

The looks of confusion across the lab shifted to reflections of fear. The lab manager commanded everyone to stay seated as she opened the doors for a flood of students coming in for the shelter of the lab. As soon as they closed behind the mob of students, nobody would be allowed to leave for three hours.

A news update popped up on the Facebook feed already open on my computer. It was from CCSU’s official account, and reiterated what the intercom message had already stated. “Campus emergency. Seek shelter. Lock doors, close windows. We will communicate when we have more info. This is not a drill.”

By this time, students had called parents and friends, sent out tweets and posted Facebook updates. Lab techs switched the televisions to news stations, where our story already began to appear. “CCSU in lockdown,” read the scrolling news ticker. “Police at the scene.”

With the recent frequency of school shootings, I couldn’t help but draw the worst conclusions. Rumors were already circulating that a gunman was on campus. Twitter exploded with concern and speculation under the hashtag #ccsu. It was hard to believe all the claims streaming across Twitter, but just as hard not to imagine them as possible. 

While the Twitter and Facebook chaos ramped up, the other students and I sat tight in our computer chairs, checking news websites and social media to glean any information we could. News crews had arrived and the story took precedence on several channels.

CCSU, meanwhile, kept releasing the same tweets and voicemails to student phones: “Stay in place. State of emergency continues.” CCSU had changed its website to display a white screen with nothing but the same messages in a glaring red font.

We waited and listened to the same news stories over and over. I texted friends until my phone battery died, keeping a Facebook page of active conversations open, all the while reading and rereading the headline: “Possible gunman at CCSU campus.” Even as I sat confined to the printing lab, those words still seemed unreal.

A masked gunman, said the news. He supposedly had a sword and wore a bulletproof vest. Hundreds of police sped to the scene and blocked off entire streets. SWAT teams arrived in black vans. We watched as the story grew in front of our eyes. It felt unreal to see my university’s name on the news like this, unnerving to see video of heavily armed personnel carrying guns across campus lawns I had walked on countless times.

But, despite all of this, I didn’t hear as much as a gunshot, police siren or even loud voices. It was calm in the computer lab, and as time went on I felt comfortable, merely waiting for the signal to go home. I felt safe surrounded by my peers and CCSU staff. Even more so, I felt comforted by the massive police response.

But, as 3 p.m. drew near, the students were clearly growing restless. Not much more information had emerged in the last hour. The consistent news story was that the masked gunman had been seen going into James Hall, one of the dormitories. We spent the last hour of lockdown quietly waiting for the police to apprehend him, obeying the message to stay indoors that we’d been hearing since noon.

“Police have contained suspect,” a news update finally said. This was enough for many of the hungry, overheated students in the lab, and they began to filter outside despite the lab manager’s adamant warnings to remain inside.

I left moments before the official rescinding of the state of emergency, and the campus was full of students leaving at the same time. Classes were canceled. Everyone was engaged in conversation about the ordeal. Friends hugged as they reunited. Others called family. We were fine, we were going home.

As I made my way toward the parking garage, I overheard a conversation in front of me: “They said he had no gun at all. It was just a Halloween costume. I can’t believe they shut down the whole campus for three hours over a costume. Leave it to CCSU to blow things this far out of proportion.”

Walking to my car, I reflected on the day and decided the massive police response and being locked down was worth it.

CCSU police received reports of a potentially armed person on campus and took the measures necessary to ensure everyone’s safety. If the police had hesitated to act in the face of an actual threat, lives could have been at stake.

The lockdown ruined my day and incited fear in a lot of people, but I feel confident that in a dangerous situation, CCSU will keep me, and everyone else, safe.

    

The CCSU 'Gunman', One Student's View: Fear, Comfort, Response Appropriate

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