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Updated: Wednesday, 20 Mar 2013, 6:28 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 20 Mar 2013, 4:34 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Confusion continued at IUPUI Wednesday, as students and staff raised new questions about the university’s response to a potential gunman reported on campus the day before. Campus police are now reviewing procedures to determine how to communicate with students and staff more effectively.
IUPUI police Capt. Bill Abston said a female student told IUPUI police that she first saw the suspect around 12:30 p.m. in a parking lot near the School of Denistry .
The first text alert to students went out just before 1 p.m. Tuesday. Due to the nature of the campus, police officials said a “lockdown” is difficult to accomplish, and they were simply urging people to seek shelter.
But, many students said they weren’t certain what “seek shelter” meant.
"They said to us, ‘If you're comfortable to go, then leave,’” said Lucy Blinebury, a nursing student, about an hour after the incident was first reported. “So, I’m making my way home now.”
But, just down the hall, Amy Record says her class was told very different information.
“We were told to stay inside the building and seek shelter,” she said.
Asked what that meant, she shrugged.
“I don't know,” she replied. “Go somewhere without windows, I guess?”
Record and her classmates went to the third floor of the building, away from windows, where they waited for more than two hours without an update. After a while, they also decided to leave.
“We weren't sure what to do. There wasn't a lot of communication,” said classmate Katie Alonso.
“We heard that the dental school was able to leave, so we just kind of figured it's fine. So, we’re going home,” Record agreed.
24 hours later, many students still aren't sure who did the right thing.
“It just seemed like everyone was clueless about what was going on and just kind of avoided the situation, instead of saying we should seek shelter, we should go hide somewhere,” said Prince Singh, who stayed in his classroom in Cavanaugh Hall. “We had no direction, no information. [We just had] an alert saying man with gun seen on campus, seek shelter. And we got that three times in the four hours.”
LOCK DOWN OR NOT?
At 1:15 p.m., faculty and staff got an email, telling them how to "lock down" buildings and classrooms in the event of an active shooter situation.
“But, lockdown, according to the email was when you actually know there's a gunman in the building,” said David Luesink, a post-doctoral research assistant teaching Singh’s history class at the time. “I told my students — we had no evidence that anyone has come in this building. I have no training for this type of situation. The only thing I felt I could do was sort of stay with the students and try to keep them calm, because some of them were quite upset.”
But, Luesink agreed, very few details were given after the initial report.
“There was really no clear instruction. What I would have liked to have seen was some idea from someone in the administration saying — this is the situation. Sure, we don't know what's going on yet. But, we're going through building by building. It's going to take several hours. The police are here in force. That would have been very calming. If you're going to [issue an alert] like that, you've got to keep however many 10,000 or 20,000 people informed of what your plan is to deal with the situation,” he said.
By 3:30, it seemed confusion had only grown.
"We are facing a very confusing situation. We have gotten very little information or instruction from the central administration or the campus police,” wrote IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law Dean Gary Roberts in an email to students and staff.
LESSONS TO LEARN
Asked why the university didn’t issue a mandatory “lockdown” order, IUPUI Police Capt. Bill Abston said it’s because the term lockdown is unrealistic on a campus that size.
“We don't like to use the word ‘lockdown’ because that has different meaning to different people,” he said. “We wanted to keep it brief and say, ‘seek shelter.’ That way you can take measures based on where you are. We didn't use the word ‘lockdown’ because we didn't want people to think you couldn't come on campus or couldn't leave a building or enter a building or have people stationed at perimeters of buildings. We just can't do that.”
As for complaints about communication, Abston admits the university may have some lessons to learn.
“We did issue three updates to keep people informed. But, we will have an after action review, and that's one thing we're going to look at is organizational issues and communication. Depending on the situation, we might be able to provide more information. If we have a problem with an individual building versus the whole campus. A lot of that is situational based,” he said.
Still, Abston said he remains satisfied with the university’s response.
“I can't think of anything we'd change,” he said.
Police are also investigating new questions about the incident that prompted Tuesday’s alert.
Abston said the student who first reported the gunman only saw the weapon in the trunk of a car, and not ever in anyone's hands.
“She saw the gun in the trunk. Then, she ducked because she was concerned with her safety. She was concerned enough to call us. We didn't know where the person was, or where the gun was, so we sent out an alert within 10 minutes,” he said.
Asked if it is possible no one was ever carrying a gun on campus, Abston nodded.
“It's possible,” he said. “We just don't know.”
Weapons are prohibited on IUPUI’s campus, Abston said. No surveillance camera footage exists of the area of parking lot where the man was seen, he added.
A second report of a suspicious man seen near the School of Nursing turned out to only match the description of a man in a long coat, again, not carrying a gun. A third reported sighting at Indiana and Blackford streets referenced only a man carrying a rifle without any description of his clothing or coat.