East Carolina University News Services sent out a press release on Monday, notifying students that there was no threat to campus following a call to ECU Police concerning an alleged active shooter on College Hill, but the rumor spread through social media much faster.
According to the ECU News Services press release, around 11:54 a.m. Monday the ECU Police Department (ECU PD) received a call from “someone who heard rumors” of an active shooter at College Hill’s Todd Dining Hall.
ECU PD reviewed on-site camera footage and saw no threat to campus, but additional follow-ups were made on campus “quickly” to confirm the rumors were false, according to the press release.
Chris Sutton, ECU PD’s event and emergency management lieutenant, said in an interview with The East Carolinian that the investigation into where the phone call originated is ongoing. He said ECU PD is working with individuals who shared information with GPD to determine what the intent of Monday’s phone call was.
Sutton said the technology on campus allows for ECU PD to see the different areas on campus, and Monday after reviewing real-time footage from the alleged area there seemed to be no threat.
“It (camera footage) apparently showed to them (ECU PD) that there wasn’t something that was wrong at Todd,” Sutton said. “From what I understand, from the officers that went into the building or from some of the building staff that was inside of Todd when officers entered the building, they were able to clear the area without alarming or alerting any of the building patrons.”
Sutton said when ECU PD responded on the scene and they were able to do so without creating a “scene of fear” or increase students’ anxiety.
After ECU PD confirmed on-site that there was no active shooter threat at Todd Dining Hall, officers were sent to various dining locations on campus to verify if the caller gave the correct location, Sutton said. Officers were sent to the Croatan, West End Dining Hall, Main Campus Student Center and Health Sciences Campus dining locations.
“With something like this you have to look into every single possible scenario if you start looking and (are) not finding anything,” Sutton said.
Sutton said the entire shift working on Monday at the time of the call was involved in responding to a phone call involving an alleged active shooter on campus. He said between 12 and 15 officers were on-duty.
In the event of a rumored, potentially dangerous situation on-campus students should make sure they are in the safe space, Sutton said. ECU PD should be contacted immediately which can be done by dialing 9-1-1, calling ECU PD’s main number or utilizing the LiveSafe app.
“For situations like this, unfortunately, active shooter situations happen way too frequently and there’s so many lives that have been touched by them because of their frequency that it’s very easy to create mass hysteria and instill fear in individuals when it’s completely unwarranted,” Sutton said.
Sutton said the caller took the correct actions when contacting ECU PD on Monday about the rumored active shooter.
In cases such as Monday’s alleged threat, social media can be both helpful and harmful, according to Sutton. If social media is utilized in a way that creates confusion and fear as opposed to spreading accurate information, it can have a negative impact, he said.
“We take this (active shooter situations) as a very serious threat,” Sutton said. “Even since the start of our academic year this fall semester, we’ve had officers who have gone through table-top training exercises, where at the shift-level they have discussed how they would respond and what each individual's role would be. I think that aided our response (on Monday).”
Valerie Kisler-van Reede, ECU’s Center for Counseling and Student Development director, said with social media information circulates fast which has both positive and negative effects. She said the downside is the complications the spread of false information can make.
Kisler-van Reede said Monday’s events were complicated before ECU PD responded because people weren’t certain if it was a rumor. She said everyone responds to situations based on their own experiences.
“For some people after they got the all-clear they may have been like, ‘oh, good’ and moved on,” Kisler-van Reede said. “For others, there may be lingering effects with respect to anxiety or worries.”
Emily McLamb, chief of communications for ECU Division of Student Affairs, said her advice to students in the event of a rumored threat to campus would be to verify if the source is credible.
“Depending on how you hear about it, whether it be word of mouth, social media, text message, I think it’s finding someone that you can reach out to,” McLamb said. “Ultimately who would probably be that first step. Who would be that next step that you would contact or reach out to confirm something is true before something spreads like wildfire.”