Local News

Umbrella, not gun, causes lockdown at ECU

Posted November 16, 2011 10:58 a.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2011 8:00 p.m. EST

— East Carolina University was locked down for about three hours Wednesday after people reported seeing a man with an assault rifle walking casually on a main thoroughfare near the Greenville campus.

The item the man was carrying was, in fact, an umbrella.

The man was seen near the corner of 5th Street and Reade Circle at about 10 a.m., ECU spokeswoman Mary Schulken said. Campus police, Greenville police, the state Highway Patrol and Pitt County deputies systematically swept the campus and nearby neighborhoods to search for the man.

When they found him, they determined he was not a threat. 

The lockdown was lifted shortly after noon for ECU's medical campus, and it was lifted for the main campus at 1 p.m.

Greenville police Sgt. Carlton Williams said rumors circulating on Facebook and Twitter caused authorities to "chase ghosts" and use resources inefficiently. Still, he said, the university handled the reports properly, law enforcement worked well together and students remained calm and orderly.

False leads about a potential hostage situation caused the evacuation of the Rivers Building.

Police also surrounded several city buses with weapons drawn after witnesses reporting seeing the armed man on board. That report was unfounded and all the buses were secured, authorities said.

"We'd rather respond 10 times than have someone not call and have it be something tragic," Williams said.

About 27,000 students attend ECU. The university said classes would resume at 3 p.m.

Chancellor Steve Ballard said he was relieved that the reports turned out to be false.

"East Carolina University will always err on the side of campus safety when these situations arise. Our response by faculty, staff and students was timely and professional," he said in a statement.

The school had an emergency drill to prepare for a lockdown like this back in August.

Three nearby schools also were locked down as a precaution – Elmhurst Elementary School, Wahl-Coates Elementary School and C.M. Eppes Middle School. 

This is the fifth time in recent weeks that a North Carolina college campus has been locked down because of reports of a gunman.

On Nov. 5, police shot a former Elizabeth City State University student who allegedly brought an assault rifle to campus. The school was temporarily locked down after officers on foot patrol ran into students running from the man.

Wake Technical Community College's campus in north Raleigh was locked down on Nov. 7, but authorities couldn't locate a gunman seen in some nearby woods. Campbell University was locked down a week ago during a three-hour standoff with a student suspected of stealing weapons from a Fuquay-Varina gun shop.

Late Monday, a man who robbed a business near the University of North Carolina at Wilmington was seen running toward the campus, prompting another lockdown.