Student reports of a man carrying a weapon near Spelman Halls triggered campus-wide safety alerts beginning at around 12:40 a.m., roughly 80 minutes after the first report was filed with Public Safety.
The individual was taken into the custody of Borough Police, University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said in an interview just after 2 a.m. Saturday. It remains unclear whether any charges will be filed, and the individual’s name has not been released.
Timeline of events
The exact timeline of what transpired during the intervening 80 minutes, during which the University determined that the threat was sufficiently “credible” to notify students, remains unclear.
Public Safety declined to comment, referring all questions to the Office of Communications. Cliatt also declined to outline the exact sequence of actions that made up the University’s response over the course of the night for security reasons.
“No law enforcement or security agency typically publicizes the fine details of their security capabilities because it could provide potential perpetrators with an advantage,” Cliatt said in an e-mail.
After seeing a man sprint by with what looked like an AK-47 in his hand, Erica Greil ’10 called Public Safety from the bus stop by the Dinky Station at 11:24 p.m. Friday. It was not until 12:40 a.m. Saturday that Public Safety alerted students of an “unconfirmed report of a student-age [male] carrying a weapon in the area of Spelman Hall[s].”
Early Saturday morning, Greil described her involvement in the incident in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.
Greil explained that she was walking to the Wawa store on University Place with two friends when a man carrying a gun ran past the group. Roughly five foot, eight inches tall and wearing a short-sleeved shirt, the individual appeared to be coming from the direction of Forbes College.
“It looked like he had a weapon in his hand. It looked like an AK-47,” she said. “I lived in a third-world country, so I know what they look like ... We could definitely tell it wasn’t a water gun or a nerf gun.”
Greil then called Public Safety at 11:24 p.m. and spoke with them for 13 minutes, according to her phone records.
Within one minute of Greil’s call, Public Safety had contacted Borough Police, Cliatt said. Minutes later, Public Safety and Borough Police officers were canvassing the area. The officers had already begun their patrol at 11:29 p.m. when Public Safety received a second call with a similar report.
Greil said that at around 11:50 p.m., Borough Police arrived at her dorm room to interview her. She said she told the Borough Police that the gun looked real and that the man was holding it by the barrel, but also that it was too dark for her to tell if the gun was made of metal or plastic.
At an undisclosed time, Cliatt said Public Safety notified the Emergency Preparedness Task Force, a group of senior administrators from Public Safety, the Office of the Executive Vice President, Environmental Health and Safety, the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Communications, Facilities and other key University offices. She declined to state when the task force was alerted.
“If there were someone trying to plan an assault on the University, these are exactly the kinds of things they would want to know … it’s not wise to publicize that information,” she said.
At the time the task force was alerted, there was not sufficient evidence to categorize the threat as “credible,” Cliatt said, adding that Public Safety and Borough Police officers continued their patrolling and interviews while the task force assessed the threat level. Public Safety did not seal off the area, she said, and multiple students told the ‘Prince’ that they walked by Spelman at around midnight and saw officers but were not told to leave the area.
“No individual could be found, and the reports remained unconfirmed, and so the search continued while eyewitnesses were interviewed,” leaving Public Safety and Borough Police to continue a “thorough threat assessment,” Cliatt said. This assessment included checking prox records “to see entry and egress from the various buildings in the area” and “going across campus to check on theatrical productions in which prop guns might have been used,” she added.
At 12:40 a.m., when the threat was found to be credible, the University sent out the first warning messages via the Princeton Telephone and E-mail Notification System (PTENS). Students told the ‘Prince’ that they received the message between 12:45 and 12:48 a.m.
The student carrying the firearm received the alert via text message and called Public Safety at 12:59 a.m. to say that he might be the individual mentioned in the alert, Cliatt said. Public Safety then notified Borough Police, and officials picked up the student at a dorm on campus.
At 1:24 a.m. Saturday, Public Safety issued an “all clear” announcement that the “individual had been detained.”
Executive Vice President Mark Burstein said he was “extremely satisfied” with the emergency response. “Both our Public Safety department and the Borough Police reacted quickly. The speed with which they responded was very reassuring,” Burstein said in an interview at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. “Our notification systems worked well.”
Cliatt also praised the University’s response, adding that she did not believe the 80-minute gap between the first report and the notification of the campus community was unnecessarily long.
“The things that took place in that time period obviously took 80 minutes,” she said, noting that all “action steps” taken during this period were necessary. “Canvassing the area, getting access to prox information to see if various dorms had been accessed, convening the task force, putting together the alert message, all those things take time,” she explained.
Cliatt also emphasized that the University considers the fear and anxiety caused by emergency alerts when deciding whether a threat is sufficiently credible to merit issuing an alert. “The safety of our community is our top priority, and that includes both the physical and the emotional safety of our campus,” she said.
Burstein said that Public Safety receives preliminary reports of bombs, toy guns and other such situations multiple times each year.
“We have a history of dealing with fake guns,” Cliatt added.
Burstein added Saturday morning that the Emergency Preparedness Task Force would soon meet to “review our policy and see if there are ways that we can improve our process.”
Borough Police told the ‘Prince’ multiple times this weekend that they would be unable to disclose whether charges had been filed until Monday.
Cliatt declined to comment on whether the University has been notified of charges and on whether disciplinary action is forthcoming.
It appears, however, that the student may have violated both University rules and New Jersey law.
“Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” states that “the possession, storing, or use on campus of firearms (including paintball, BB, air, or other guns that shoot projectiles) … except inoperative antique firearms used exclusively for decorative purposes” is a “serious offense.”
State law bans the possession of both firearms and imitation firearms on the grounds of all educational institutions, including colleges and universities, without the written authorization of the governing officer of the institution.