Wednesday, October 22, 2008---The scariest day of my life.
12:30 p.m. Central time A text message goes out stating that armed men had been seen on the south campus, which is also known as Bowling Green Community College and is separated from the university’s main campus. That area is soon surrounded by police.
12:44 p.m. The campus emergency management system announces to all students on both the south and main campus that there is “an immediate danger” throughout both campuses and they “should seek shelter.” The outside alarms are sounded.
About this time I get a phone call from my sister asking me if I have heard about an incident at Western and if I have heard from Adam. Within minutes, the radio that I was listening to began to talk about reports of a gunman on Western's Campus. I franticly begin texting my son, he usually responds to my texts rather quickly. But I got NO response. I called......his phone went straight to voicemail.
12:47 p.m Students receive an e-mail message saying that an “incident involving guns” had been reported.
I turn on the tv and the local station has a reporter at South Campus. They are also talking about possible gunshots. I begin to panic, because I can't get a response from my son.
12:52 p.m. University officials send another broadcast e-mail message saying that shots were reportedly fired at the Pearce-Ford Tower. The building is the largest dorm on campus, with 24 floors of student housing and a food court.
I begin calling the Alumni office, to see if Adam is there. I know that he goes to work inbetween classes sometimes and I think maybe he is there. The phone rings and then gives me a message saying that they can't answer the phone at this time to leave a message. I try calling Adam's cell phone...still no answer. I leave a message.
I stay glued to the radio, tv and internet all at the same time, hoping to hear updates as to what is happening on Western's Campus. I also continue trying to reach my son. Calling his phone and the Alumni office. But still am not able to get any response.
Finally one of Adam's friends calls me and tells me that he has talked to Adam online and that he is is lockdown at DUC (Downing University Center) and that he is okay. He says that he and everyone else are having trouble getting their cell phones to work, so they are sending messages to their families online. Oh my goodness was I relieved. Still I want to hear my son's voice, but knowing that someone has heard from him was sure wonderful news.
3:07 p.m. The all clear was given.
Adam called me as soon as he was able to leave DUC. I was soooo very glad to hear his voice. So many bad thoughts had been running through my mind, with all the school shootings that have happened. Adam said that it was frightening when he got the text message saying "Shots fired at PFT take cover immediately!" and just a few minutes later they were told to stay away from doors and windows and to remain in one certain area of the building. Also knowing that PFT (Pierce Ford Tower) is only about a block away from where he is, had to be scary.
Thank God everything turned out alright. And I commend WKU for taking things seriously and for having the emergency systems in place to keep their students, staff and parents alerted as to what is taking place.
Even today Gary Ransdall, President of the University sent out an email message to parents and students regarding the incident. The following is what he had to say:
Dear Parents of WKU Students:
As I am sure you are now aware, WKU officials initiated our Emergency Notification System yesterday to notify students, faculty, and staff that a dangerous situation existed on our campus between 11:25 a.m. and 3:07 p.m. We advised all individuals on campus to remain inside while law enforcement authorities brought the situation under control.
What we now know is that a fight occurred between a small group of students on our South Campus, which houses our Community College and is located on Nashville Road about a mile from the main campus. When police were called, the same individuals involved in that fight went to an area on the main campus near their residence hall and, once again, began to fight with one another. Reports to 911 indicated that individuals saw a fight and one heard a gun shot on the main campus and that prompted us to immediately notify the campus of a dangerous situation. Despite this, police have been unable to substantiate that guns were present or that shots were fired.
A number of students who observed the fight have been questioned. Five individuals were taken into custody yesterday afternoon, questioned, and released. Police continue to investigate. Once the individuals involved in this altercation are found, they will be subject to the campus judiciary process.
The good news is that our campus emergency notification system worked well. Following reports of the first incident, everyone across the campus was notified by text message to stay clear of the South Campus area. The South Campus was quickly secured by law enforcement authorities. Following the 911 call to report a second incident, police were on the scene immediately. The emergency notification system, which includes emergency text messages, emails, an outdoor voice warning system and postings on the WKU website, was then used to advise all on the campus to remain indoors until police issued an “all clear,” which they did at 3:07 p.m.
Our staff in Student Affairs, Public Affairs, and Information Technology communicated effectively and thoughtfully but with sufficient patience to ensure valid information. I am proud of the manner in which we responded and ensured a secure environment until actual information could be validated. As a parent, you should know that we will always err on the side of caution in such matters.
The message I am conveying to all of our students, and it is a message that has become commonplace in our society, is that aggressive behavior has consequences which often go beyond the individual parties involved. Steps will be taken to ensure safety for the uninvolved when individuals use physical action and threaten one another. We must assume that any such situation could escalate, and we cannot allow that to occur.
We also live in times where it is difficult to control exaggerated information. We will always take steps to communicate and then sort through what is fact and what is not fact in each situation.
We are working directly with our Campus Police and the Bowling Green City Police to increase patrol across campus and throughout our community. I want you to know that if we ever do find a weapon on a person on our campus, we will expel that student or dismiss that employee. So far we have no reason to believe that such a circumstance exists, but we will be diligent in maintaining a safe and secure campus environment.
Thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you. WKU values the safety of every single member of the WKU family, especially your sons and daughters who make up our student body.
Dr. Gary A. Ransdell President, Western Kentucky University