It was gut-wrenching. The bangs didn’t register as gunshots — until a frantic librarian was heard calling 911.
That’s how Sarah Evans, a fourth-year in sport management at Florida State University, described her growing fear as she realized her life was in danger. Evans was just 30 feet around the corner from an entrance to Strozier Library when an armed gunman opened fire in the library on Nov. 20. In the midst of attempting to discern what was happening, she saw a man bleeding on the ground behind a desk.
“I was just standing there, frozen kind of … and that’s when I was like, ‘Holy crap, I gotta get out of here,’” Evans said.
Myron May, the gunman, was a 2005 alumnus of FSU. He was shot and killed by police after ignoring their request to drop his handgun and shooting at one of the officers.
In a separate incident the previous night, a post on anonymous posting app Yik Yak at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill read, “To all my friends, don’t be in the Pit tomorrow at noon. Things will be getting a big (sic) explosive.” The Pit is a student courtyard at UNC.
The post garnered responses such as, “Is this a threat of violence?” and “So should the police be notified or…?”
In response, the police were alerted and had an increased presence on campus the next morning, especially surrounding the courtyard mentioned in the post. Jonathan Hartshorn, a fourth-year in economics and sports science at UNC, said many students on campus took the post as a joke and the volume of students passing through the central campus landmark didn’t seem to change.
“I mean, people talked about how many policemen were in the Pit, but I don’t think people were nervous at all,” he said. “I went through the Pit a couple of times and saw the police officers and I was like, ‘It looks like they know what they’re doing.’”
First-year UNC student Daniel Fischbeck was charged Nov. 20 with a felony count for falsifying a bomb threat at a public building. Had it been a serious case, Hartshorn said he thinks campus authorities might have notified students through the university text message alert system and/or shut down campus.
“If you weren’t sure what to do (in the case of a campus emergency), as soon as you heard something was up, you’d also get instruction immediately,” he said.
Hartshorn said this instruction, however, might not be clear enough in all emergency situations.
“If you gave me a very specific scenario, I think I would go with my intuition,” he said. “I don’t think I would know what I am actually supposed to do.”
Evans, at FSU, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I didn’t know if it was one shooter, I didn’t know if it was multiple people,” she said. “I didn’t know if we were safe in the library. I didn’t know what to do. I just felt — I felt really helpless.”
In light of these events, officials at Ohio State said they are prepared to handle cases of bomb threats and active shooters on campus. But some students who lived through those situations have been left with feelings of uncertainty, as was made apparent at other universities this fall.
That same air of uncertainty hangs over students at OSU, too. Some students said they aren’t completely sure that they’d know what to do in a campus emergency.
Mattey Spicer, a fourth-year in fashion and retail studies, said while he thinks places like a residence hall might be prepared to handle a campus threat because resident advisers could take charge, an evacuation might not go as smoothly at a building like the Ohio Union.
“I honestly just think it would just be chaos,” he said. “I think I would just react based on the situation. I mean, if you were to ask me what I would do right now, I wouldn’t have a certain plan ready.”
Meredith Joseph, a second-year in industrial and systems engineering, said she hopes employees in campus buildings are prepared to offer instructions in an emergency situation because she believes individual students simply don’t know what to do.
“To be honest, we haven’t been notified or we haven’t been educated on certain procedures that need to be happening,” Joseph said. “We haven’t learned (a formal procedure) and that’s sad.”
OSU is no stranger to bomb threats or active shooter scenarios. On March 9, 2010, then-51-year-old maintenance employee Nathaniel Brown came to work at 3:30 a.m., halfway through his shift. Armed with two handguns, Brown shot two of his bosses before killing himself. Larry Wallington, then 48, a building services manager, was pronounced dead at the scene while Henry Butler, then 60, an operations shift leader, was later in stable condition after undergoing surgery at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
According to his supervisors, Brown was said to have been a “hostile” employee who didn’t follow through on simple, routine tasks and required close supervision. It was after Brown learned of his termination that he opened fire in the maintenance building at 2000 Tuttle Park Place.
Police said they responded to the scene within two minutes and university officials sent a campus-wide email shortly after 7 a.m., alerting students and staff that a shooting had occurred, but that campus had been secured and OSU would continue normal operations.
That November, four campus buildings were evacuated after the FBI was notified of a bomb threat on OSU’s campus. Emails and text messages sent to those enrolled in the Buckeye Alert system said the threat was linked to Thompson Library, Scott Laboratory, Smith Laboratory and McPherson Chemical Laboratory.
Some classes in neighboring buildings were reportedly canceled and students were told to avoid those buildings and the general area. More than 1,500 students were evacuated and parts of 18th Avenue were closed to pedestrian traffic.
To receive Buckeye Alerts, students must enroll in the opt-in system through Buckeye Link and officials said about 32,000 people received the text messages that morning. However, some parents of students told The Lantern that their children had not received those messages.
The FBI, University Police and Columbus Fire Department bomb squad spent 12 hours scouring the four buildings with bomb-sniffing dogs. They found no evidence of an actual threat. The false alarm was linked to then-OSU student Jonathan Birkemeyer, who sent an email to the FBI’s tip website at 7:38 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2010. In it, the criminology student and former Marine said he had found a paper with a detailed map of nine bombs placed in four different campus buildings that noted the chemical and highly explosive nature of the powder. The FBI alerted OSU officials about the tip at 8:19 a.m. that same day and they announced a police investigation at 8:41 a.m.
An FBI special agent testified at the resulting hearing, saying that Birkemeyer had an exam scheduled in McPherson Laboratory the morning of the email and that an investigation of his computer showed that Birkemeyer had downloaded the review sheet for the exam only the day before.
More recently, a suspicious package found at the South Campus Gateway prompted a campus crime alert Feb. 21, 2013. A robbery suspect had removed an alarm system from Barnes and Noble and dropped the alarm while attempting to evade officers on the scene. The alarm was a box with wires coming out of it, so the bookstore and several buildings in the area were evacuated. The alarm was deemed non-threatening in the resulting investigation.
Roughly two months later, the Ohio Union was evacuated April 16, 2013, after an unattended backpack was found outside the building. The threat shut down parts of High Street and College Road between 12th Avenue and Hagerty Drive. The unattended backpack contained no explosives, according to a notice from OSU media relations, but was purposefully detonated to follow with suspicious package protocol. The police were notified of the unattended backpack at about 5 p.m., according to a university public safety notice, and the Ohio Union was reopened shortly after 7:30 p.m.
In light of recent campus emergencies like the one at FSU, University Police officer Adam Tabor said in the case of an active shooter or potential bomb threat at OSU, students should consider three steps to safety. First, evacuate oneself from the situation and get away from the source of danger, and second, find a safe hiding place or create a barricade from the threat. Tabor warned that as a last resort, students might need to be prepared to fight.
Tabor said knowing how to get out of a building is the best way to stay alive.
“Prepare for that escape route. Know every way there is to get out of that building where you spend a lot of time,” he said. “It might save your life some day.”
OSU authorities said the No. 1 priority for students should be protecting their own lives and that calling 911 comes second.
When alerting the authorities, officer Joanna Shaul said students should be vigilant.
“Be on the lookout for what doesn’t fit,” she said. “If everyone’s leaving and one person is going the other way, pay attention to that person, get a good description of them … When something is different and unusual, trust yourself.”
With a student body the size of OSU’s, Shaul said it’s imperative that students keep a watchful eye, as there are significantly more students than there are police officers. As of Fall Semester, there were 58,322 students enrolled at OSU’s main campus. Administration and Planning spokesman Dan Hedman said in an email that the university’s public safety presence of uniformed personnel totals 143 staff members. The Florida State University Police Department serves more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff with 67 sworn officers, according to a university website.
Tabor said OSU police officers go through eight hours of active shooter training every year involving role playing scenarios.
“I am confident in saying that if this happens here at the Ohio State University, we will absolutely handle it,” he added.
As for students, Tabor said the same logic applies.
“The better prepared you are, the better chance you have at surviving,” he said.
Even so, Evans, the FSU student, said developing a plan of action differs from actually reacting when an emergency situation arises.
“You can plan this type of situation,” she said, “(but) you’re never going to expect it when it comes or know what to do.”