Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Commentary: FAU did not keep students safe during a three hour lockdown

Regina Kaza. Photo by Ryan Murphy

“Our campus tends to be crime free,” said President Mary Jane Saunders at Thursday’s basketball game. “I’m very pleased that all of the alert systems put into place worked. I think it was important to let everyone know in a timely fashion what was happening.”

Just hours before, FAU was on lockdown for three hours when a gunman roamed the campus. It could have been worse. Between FAU’s misleading texts and that sad excuse for a lockdown — or what FAU Police Chief Charles Lowe calls “a closure” — students were not safe.

That afternoon my phone buzzed. It was a text alert from FAU. “Armed intruder/shooter in Arts & Letters, Boca. Remain alert.”

I pushed it to the side. FAU sent out a similar alert less than two weeks ago about an armed intruder in Davie. And it took an hour long lockdown to find a girl.

She had a lighter. Shaped like a gun. Scary stuff.

So no, I didn’t take Thursday’s alert seriously, not until I heard sirens going off. Then Student Government senior secretary, Abby Solomon, came into our newsroom. She told us to lock up and move over to the SG office.

“Terry Mena’s orders,” she said.

But Mena, the associate dean of students, was at a meeting in Davie during the lockdown. “Our primary concern was that students would follow the directives of the alerts to stay out of harm’s way,” he told the UP in an email.

Locked in the SG office, my phone buzzed again 30 minutes later, this time with friends from Florida State and UCF asking if everything was all right. If they already heard about it, well, it must be serious.

And the alert said it was an “armed intruder/shooter,” so shots must have been fired. At least that’s what FAU said by calling him a shooter.

My mind flashed back to the Virginia Tech shooting just five years ago, when a student went on a two hour shooting spree, killing 32 people. Could this be happening at FAU?

The second alert had a description of the suspect. Is he a shooter? No clue, it doesn’t say. FAU’s too worried about sending alerts out on time.

“It can’t be wordsmithed, it can’t be crafted, or go through people for review – it’s gotta go,” Lowe said. “This is what happened in this case, it was not reviewed by anyone. It went out because we pushed the button and sent it out. I’ll stand by that. It was the right thing to do.”

It wasn’t the right thing to do.

While FAU was busy creating panic with their mixed messages, some students walked around campus as if nothing was happening. Meanwhile, others were locked in their classes, pushing desks against the door. Because apparently even though an 8 year old can move those desks, a “muscularly built” 5 foot 10 male — with a gun — couldn’t.

And I guess that’s the next best thing to do when administrators don’t make it clear on how an FAU lockdown works — even though they just had one four years ago.

Our generation knows the fear of terrorist attacks and school massacres all too well. The stories from shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School are still engraved in our memory. With false alerts and flimsy lockdowns like this, you can’t help but imagine the worst.

According to Lowe, FAU has automated templates for the alert system in these cases. “We set those templates up so we can cover as many potential situations as possible,” Lowe said. He said they tried to get the alert out as soon as possible and then clarified their statement in the second alert.

But the second alert didn’t say anything about whether or not he was a shooter. You would think if FAU took the time to write a description, they could at least throw out the fact that no one is getting shot, especially when students were walking around campus. Maybe they were risking their lives or maybe it’s hard to take a lockdown seriously when you can easily get in and out of a building. I’ll go with the second.

It seemed like the safest place to be was in a classroom or a dorm — the only places that were, for the most part, locked for three hours.

“All the buildings are locked down until the officers can clear them one by one,” said FAU police after the second alert went out.

Days after the incident, Lowe said FAU PD doesn’t even have the staff to clear each building on campus. “I don’t know that that actually occurred because we can’t be at all the buildings at one time,” he said.

It wasn’t the alerts Mena, Lowe, and Saunders were all pleased with that told us no shots were fired. FAU PD told the UP when we called a couple of hours into the search.

After the second alert, FAU PD received a report that the robber had moved to PBSC. “We have yet to find anyone who said he was there,” Lowe said. “We’re pretty sure it was a case of mistaken identity.”

Lowe said it was one of the many rumors that occurred from this case. Once again, another thing that should have been addressed in the alert.

“In a deficit of information, people will kind of [generate rumors],” Lowe said. “And right now we’re still involved in an active investigation and a limited amount of information we want to give. It’s just a dance that we do.”

So while hearts dropped at PBSC and FAU when the gunman supposedly moved all the way across campus, FAU PD was dancing around. That’s good to know.

Lowe held a press conference after campus was cleared saying the gunman was still on the loose. He said he wouldn’t comment on specifics. “It might impede the investigation,” Lowe said. “We don’t want to give information that would aid the person in escaping detection and preventing arrest.”

Yet the gunman already escaped. And almost a week later, he still hasn’t been caught. Once again the FAU community is left in the dark. Maybe FAU PD should stop dancing and start answering questions.

Because after students were locked inside their dorms, helicopters hovered over buildings, and a man robbed a student at gunpoint, FAU acted like nothing happened.

“All clear. The emergency is now over. Return to normal business,” read the last alert.

And that’s exactly what they did. The basketball game went on as planned and Saunders bragged about the alert system. “No one was hurt and I think that’s a very good result for something that could have ended differently,” she said.

In those first few hours, we were almost sure it would have ended differently. FAU could have been added to the history books of school massacres and maybe a candlelit memorial would have silenced campus the way the Burrow didn’t that Thursday night. The gunman could have still been on campus during the game. We’ll never know.

But the biggest problem with these lockdowns? We still might have that candlelit memorial. What a shame.

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