Students mixed about UB's response to report of man dropping gun in Student Union
Suspect not found after search
University Police say there was never a threat to campus, but students have mixed feelings about how UB responded to a report a man dropped what witnesses said looked like a gun in the Student Union Monday afternoon.
At least two students reported to UPD they saw a man drop what appeared to be a gun in the Union, pick it up and then exit the building with it Monday around 3 p.m.
UPD patrolled the campus but could not find anyone matching the two different reported descriptions of the suspect. UPD believes there was never a threat to campus, but officers had an increased patrol of North Campus Monday night, with all but one South Campus patrol moving to the Amherst campus.
“It could have been a gun, it could have been a BB gun, it could have been something that looked like a gun, we truly don’t know,” said Chief of Police Gerald Schoenle. “All I could say was something was dropped. Witnesses thought it was a gun.”
Two students reported seeing the suspect. The first student reported seeing a black, bald male wearing a hoodie and very baggy white sweatpants place a gun in his waistband – from where it had fallen out – before exiting the building. Another student came forward later Monday saying he witnessed a similar incident, but reported the man he saw was black with shoulder-length brown dreadlocks with blonde highlights.
The suspect reportedly dropped the could-be gun on the staircase near Putnam’s. Schoenle said there are no security cameras in the area that could accurately capture what happened, but UPD is continuing to watch footage from other angles.
Zoe Peppas, a senior business major, said although she was off campus when the incident happened, she was still worried.
“It’s unsettling,” she said.
A UB alert from UB’s Office of University Communications about the situation did not go out until 3:43 p.m. – nearly 43 minutes after UPD received a call from the first student. A description of the suspect was not sent out until around 5:15 p.m., but UPD said it sent one at around 3:15 p.m. to the Office of Communications.
Some students have questioned the delay in the alert and said they should have been notified sooner.
“I’m not happy with how long it took to notify us but I like how fast the police responded,” said Michael Pastoressa, a freshman undecided major. “It should have been faster than 45 minutes.”
Shortly after 3 p.m. Monday, Lieutenant David Urbanek told a Spectrum reporter in the Union that an alert should be posted shortly. Several officers on scene commented at the time that the alert should have been posted already.
The communications office normally sends out alerts but UPD can send out them out itself in an emergency situation. Schoenle said it was a judgment call by officers on scene to not deem the situation an emergency because it was unconfirmed if the dropped object was a gun or not and the suspect had left the building.
“In most cases, like in this one, we feel it’s more appropriate to get out the information that’s right and correct with UB Communications and they send out the notification,” Schoenle said. “That’s how that process works.”
Schoenle said an emergency situation would be something like an active shooter, in which case UPD would send out an alert itself and the building would be evacuated or locked down – as it was in a 2010 incident.
In 2010, an alleged gunman was seen in Lockwood Library. Lockwood was evacuated and UPD declared the area safe after searching for four hours. It is still unknown if the suspect was holding a gun or not.
Pastoressa said he thinks UPD should have evacuated the Student Union or had a lockdown.
Schoenle said the reason Lockwood was evacuated in 2010 and not on Monday was because in 2010 UPD had video surveillance of a suspect holding a suspicious item and it was believed the suspect was still in the building.
Roshan Surendhran, a sophomore chemical engineering major, said he doesn’t feel there was a need for an evacuation, but that students should have been notified sooner.
UB Communications and UPD may be changing the alert protocol. UB Spokesperson John Della Contrada said he and Schoenle have discussed sending a text and tweet out immediately and then following up with a more detailed email. Schoenle said UPD has plans to have two civilian dispatchers working at all times and to train them to use UB Alert.
Della Contrada said UB will push to get more students signed up for the UB Alert text messaging system. Last winter, about 18,000 people were signed up for the text alerts. The UB Alert Twitter had 2,639 followers at the time of print.
It doesn’t seem as if rumors, such as the notion of an active shooter or gunman sighting, were spread about the incident. Students took to Twitter to voice their concerns about the alert, but most said UB was not taking the situation seriously enough. Some even made light-hearted jokes about the scare.
SUNY law prohibits anyone carrying a firearm on campus unless authorized by the university president. Schoenle said only UPD has authorization from President Satish Tripathi to carry guns on campus. He said in his 10 years at UB there have been a couple requests from civilians to carry firearms on campus but they were not honored.
Schoenle said if Monday’s suspect is ever caught and it’s determined he did have a gun on campus, he would be charged with “at least a misdemeanor.”
He added most campus crimes are solved because students come forward with information.
Schoenle said every university police department has changed to be more prepared since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. He said UPD uses an abandoned dorm on South Campus to train for active shooter situations.
Some of the suspects in recent shootings have had mental health issues. Schoenle said UB transports a number of students each year – about 60 – for mental health evaluations. He said most, if not all, are only a danger to themselves.
Schoenle did not want to say whether not he thinks a suspect actually dropped a gun or not, as there is not enough evidence at this time. He said the report is concerning nonetheless.
Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and Marlee Tuskes is the assistant news editor. Comments and questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.