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UNC Public Safety Chief: Lockdown was not an overreaction

Posted December 2, 2015

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— Law enforcement officials from five agencies descended on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Wednesday morning to investigate a report of an armed person walking on campus.

Authorities found no such person in nearly 30 minutes of searching, but the response prompted a campus lockdown that included sirens warning students, staff and faculty to shelter in place.

UNC Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff McCracken said the initial call to police originated on campus at about 8:22 a.m.

"A call was received stating that an individual armed with a rifle was seen entering our Naval ROTC building," McCracken said in a 10:30 a.m. news conference.

In the 911 call, a woman can be heard saying that she saw two women wearing military uniforms running "really fast" out of a building and saying there was an armed man inside. The caller states that those women asked her to call police.

"I saw two women run out of the ROTC armory building and they told me to call 911 because there's a man with a rifle," said the caller.

Officials from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff's Office, Chapel Hill Police Department, Carrboro Police Department and UNC Department of Public Safety all responded to the area, near the intersection of South and McCauley streets, cleared the ROTC building and were unable to locate any armed individuals.

"At this time, there is no apparent threat to the campus," McCracken said.

The alert to students went out about 20 minutes after the initial call. Catherine Wellen was in her dorm room a block away when the alert went out.

"I had friends calling me, telling me they were crying because they had roommates walking around and everyone was worried because we thought there was a gunman on campus who could be aggressive," said Wellen.

McCracken said officials are now working to contact and follow-up with the caller to learn more about what may have prompted the call.

Considering recent terror attacks in Paris and Wednesday's shooting incident in San Bernardino , McCracken said he wouldn't consider the response to Wednesday's call an overreaction. He said that high profile cases, including cases of terrorism, played a role in the university's response.

"I don't think, given the circumstances that have occurred across the country, it would be considered an overreaction," said McCracken.

McCracken stressed that even if it turns out to be nothing, nobody should ever hesitate to call if they see something suspicious.

"We absolutely want anybody who sees anything they deem suspicious to call us so we can investigate," he said. "We don't have any way of knowing exactly what we're dealing with until we begin to investigate."

Students believe that campus police handled the scare appropriately.

"I think that any time there is any kind of warning that there's any students in danger, that the police should take any kind of precaution to keep people safe, because that should be the biggest priority," said Wellen.

Second incident investigated near UNC campus

After the all-clear signal was given and UNC resumed normal activities, authorities received another call about a person using a gun at a home near campus.

McCracken said it involved a homeowner who was using an air rifle on his property. Authorities investigated the call and determined there was no connection.

20 Comments

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  • Jackie Kylander Dec 2, 2015
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    Over reaction? Not if your child is on that campus. They locked down. They investigated. They sounded the "all clear" and the campus got back to normal. The debate on whether a campus should be a gun free zone or not is a different debate all together.

  • Barbara Hatcher Dec 2, 2015
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    Let me see if I can make this more simple for you to understand ..... my question originally was - after the 'threat' was diffused and the lockdown lifted - was it truly a threat or simply someone calling in something suspicious that turned out to be nothing. I have not suggested I'm qualified to determine whether it was credible or not, simply asking AFTER IT WAS RESOLVED, whether it was truly an "armed and dangerous man" or not. Frankly, I don't find that a difficult question for MOST people. I'm sorry you have such a difficult time understanding that.

  • Bryan Jeffries Dec 2, 2015
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    Well, you're not qualified to make a determination on what constitutes a credible threat. Trained officials are, after someone reported something that didn't appear to be routine or safe. To dismiss because you don't like it is your prerogative I guess.

  • Ronnie Reams Dec 2, 2015
    user avatar

    ROTC building would be the one building on campus where one would expect to see students with rifles. At the hour of the morning seen prolly bringing one back after taking to dorm to clean. I remember taking my M-1 to dorm to clean on occasion and carrying it back on way to classes next day. It maybe that ROTC cadets only wear uniform once a week, as used to be the case at civilian schools, so see students with their weapons in civilian clothes.

  • Joseph Mallard Dec 2, 2015
    user avatar

    We have become a nation of wimps. You people have proven this.

  • Barbara Hatcher Dec 2, 2015
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    Rude much?? No, I do not need "a gun in my face to convince me..." On the contrary, I believe in erring on the side of caution. HOWEVER, someone reporting that they see a person walking into a building with something that "may resemble a rifle" - especially if that would be a commonplace situation based on the building and setting, is not necessarily a "threat." The report came out that there was an "armed and dangerous person." The follow up report said, "all clear" but did not state (at that time) whether it was truly an armed and dangerous person or if the call turned out to be benign. Knowing many kids who attend school there, I DO want to know whether there was an actual threat or not.

  • John Weston Dec 2, 2015
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    I get that, I really do. My original comment was addressing the general idea pushed nowadays that guns are automatically bad. I think those lines in the story you mentioned were added since then. With recent events, this response was justified, that is true.

  • Bubba Jim Dec 2, 2015
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    Mommy a man said something bad to me....waaaaaaaaaa

  • John McCray Dec 2, 2015
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    My guess is that people that are responsible for the safety of others don't want a repeat of any of the recent shootings or terrorist attacks in their area of operations. So, you know, as the statement said, they acted out of "an abundance of caution."

  • John Weston Dec 2, 2015
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    Haha, well thank you. But I do think it speaks volumes as to the state of our society.

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