Violence strikes close by

Kelly Tyko

It’s five minutes before class and you’re rushing through the Breezeway. Usually you don’t pay attention to the people you pass, but today’s different.

You overhear a lovers’ quarrel. The two exchange words, nasty remarks. It gets heated quickly.

She’s called a whore and he an asshole.

She turns to walk away, he turns to his pocket and pulls out a revolver.

Bang.

She falls to the ground.

Bang.

He falls to the ground.

A scene similar to this happened – not on the Boca Raton Campus’s Breezeway – but close by.

On Friday, January 18, at the Davie Campus of Broward Community College (that adjoins with FAU’s Davie Campus) Michael Holness confronted Moriah Pierce just before 11 a.m. on a grassy expanse of the BCC campus, just as students were walking to classes. The two had a quick, argumentative exchange just before Holness pulled out the gun, shot Pierce in the back of the head, and then shot himself, according to police reports.

One onlooker, Mark Snyder, described the scene to the Sun-Sentinel: “Kids right away were running everywhere, screaming and dropping books. It was the whole Columbine scenario. There was no time to recognize anyone. It was clear though that there were only two people involved.”

And while this didn’t happen at FAU – it could have. It could happen anywhere, says Police Chief August Washington.

“It could have happened down the street or ten blocks away or ten miles away,” says Washington. “I think that this is a true example that we exist in the greater society. This is truly a result of the dysfunctions of our society today.”

Dysfunctions of society or a person’s mental illness?

To FAU President Anthony Catanese, it’s mental illness. “I think this was a tragic and unusual case. The police call it a domestic violence case, but I consider it to be a mental illness case. What else could explain such horrible behavior?,” Catanese says.

BCC and FAU share the Davie Campus, but security of the campus doesn’t fall under FAU’s jurisdiction. There’s an agreement between FAU and BCC, that BCC and the city of Davie are responsible for security. The same goes for the other FAU Broward Campuses.

The Treasure Coast, MacArthur, and Boca Raton Campuses all have their own FAU police departments. And if necessary, FAU can count on its neighboring city police departments for help.

But Washington doesn’t blame BCC’s security for the incident.

“Those types of things are isolated incidents. That individual had specific indent and it’s very difficult to go out against that,” Washington says.

BCC President Willis Holcombe told the Miami Herald that he didn’t think “there was a thing we could have done to prevent [the shooting]. This is something the two brought on campus, something between them. It could have happened at a mall or the movies, anywhere.”

However this didn’t happen at the mall, it happened on a college campus and it happened right next door. Could this happen between students on FAU soil?

It actually did – once. Some 16 or 17 years ago another relationship gone awry led to a loss of life. In FAU’s 37 years, there has only been one shooting, police officials say.

Patricia Harris, a detective with FAU’s police department, was on duty the day of the FAU shooting. “It was another one of those love triangles,” says Harris, explaining that a boy shot his estranged girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself. The girl survived.

To keep the FAU community safer, Washington says, that the FAU police officers have continuous training. The officers are also fully trained to respond to various types of emergencies and including criminal situations, where someone would have a weapon.

However, if everyone follows the rules there wouldn’t be any weapons – especially not guns.

“One of the basic policies here at FAU, is that we don’t allow anyone to carry firearms on the campus with the exception of the police,” Washington adds.

But FAU’s police department says that if another shooting were to occur they have emergency plans. Washington knows that what happened at BCC, could occur on any college campus, but would not happen because it’s “easier.”

“The young person that pulled the trigger that took his life as well as the young lady’s life, did not think to himself “it’s easier to get this done on a college campus.” They were in a mental state of derangement and he wanted to get it done,” Washington says.

Still safe

Within minutes of the BCC shooting, the incident drew national coverage, with fears it was another in a wave of random school shootings nationwide. Two days earlier in Virginia, a law student killed three and wounded three others.

Yet statistics show how safe schools remain. Authorities point out that there were about 1.4 on-campus murders per one million students compared with a murder rate in the general population of about 55 per one million people.

David Bergeron from the U.S. Department of Education says that “one murder is too many, but looked at in comparison to national crime data, college campuses are relatively safe places.” Bergeron is the chief of policy and budget development for the office of post-secondary education in the department.

Each year, colleges are required to release statistics on crime as a result of the Clery Act, passed by Congress in 1990. The act, also known as The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, was established so that students and their parents could be aware of a school’s trend with violence.

Washington agrees that schools are one of the safest environments and says that FAU is a very safe place.

“One of the things I often tell people is that FAU and all of its campuses, are relatively safe from violence. The biggest thing we seem to have is most of the time theft or arson, “Washington says.

And theft is a big problem at FAU. In 1998, combining auto and other thefts there was a total of 38, in 1999 — 22 thefts, and in 2000 – 51 thefts. (Statistics for were unavailable).

Though Washington explains those incidents as “crimes of opportunities.”

“When you’re on a college campus, people tend to be mentally distracted, because their mental energy is going towards to their studies and what have you. They’re not always making the best decisions regarding security. Quite often we walk around the parking lot and see purses lying on the seats and books. At certain times, books become a commodity.

“It’s not something that you can say, “Wow, there are people lurking to go steal.” I think that sometimes the people say, “Oh wow, that’s three books, I can sell this and make 30 bucks,”” Washington says.

There’s simple advice on protecting your belongings: Lock your doors and don’t leave valuables in visible sight, Washington says.

“What I often caution people on, is even though we have a safe campus, we need to understand that we don’t exist in a bubble. And crime can occur anyway.”