School closed after rumors of threat spread on campus

By Courtney Klaus, Editor-In-Chief

The closing of Newman’s campus for a day shortly before Thanksgiving break was the result of rumors and a misunderstanding, Director of Security Morris Floyd now says.

Students and faculty were alarmed when they received an emergency alert early on the morning of Nov. 23 that said campus would be closed for the day because of ‘unsubstantiated reports of a threat.’ Rumors of the alleged threat created panic in the middle of the night, Floyd said, and some worried that a student was going to launch an attack on campus.

Out of an abundance of caution, he said, classes were canceled. By 10 a.m. that day, through, he determined that the threat was not real and issued an all clear.

“There was never ever a threat made to commit any kind of act of violence at Newman. That’s what we discovered in the end,” he said.

By the afternoon of that day, buildings on campus were reopened, and scheduled practices and events went on as usual.

The threat was originally reported to campus security at 1 a.m. by Imkeleen Meyer, the resident assistant of Beata Hall.

Meyer said at least five residents who approached her between 11 p.m. and midnight said they were scared to go to class the next day because they believed a student had said he planned to “shoot up the school tomorrow.”

Meyer said she went through at least four people trying to track down the messages where the threat reportedly originated.

“I was like, ‘Well, do you have the messages?’ and they said, ‘No, so-and-so has the messages’… So, I go up to the other person... But I hear the exact same story, that they don’t have the text but they had heard the rumor, and that someone else has the messages,” Meyer said.

When she completed her final duty round, Meyer said, she called security to tell them what students were saying.

Floyd said he was immediately alerted to the situation by the officer on duty and spent the entire night working to determine whether the threat was credible. But by the early morning he still did not have enough information to know for sure.

After having several meetings with other Newman officials, he said, the decision was made at 5:45 a.m. to cancel school.  

“We had just way too many unknowns, and in the interest of safety, it was decided we’d close classes,” he said.

Later that morning, Floyd said, he identified the source of the rumor on a social media thread, and the university was able to issue the all clear.

“Basically, what had happened is some student did not feel very comfortable around another student... That’s how it started, and then it morphed into, ‘This student was going to do something violent on a college campus, and he was going to do it on Friday,” he said. “These people just made some presumptions and they put it out on social media and it started out nice and tiny and it grew real big very quickly.”

Floyd said no student was punished for starting the rumor because the students had no way of knowing how things would spread and be misconstrued.

Meyer said said she was glad the school took the threat seriously because “it’s better to be safe than sorry.”  She also said the people who reported the threat to her seemed genuinely afraid and well-intentioned.

“I feel like the people that came to me… were good people. They wouldn’t just do stuff like that to start a gossip page or just not have school the next day or something,” she said.

Floyd said if he had learned of the threat earlier, he may have been able to complete his investigation before taking the step of closing the campus.

“What I’m a little disappointed in is, at some point, way earlier than 1 a.m. in the morning, someone didn’t call me and say, ‘Mo we’re hearing this’ and instead it just perpetuated on social media,” he said.

Although the threat was reported as “unsubstantiated” on the Newman emergency alert system, students say they were afraid they were in real danger.

International student and Fugate Hall resident Martina Viale said she panicked when she received the emergency alert on her phone. She called her mom right away.

“My mom said, ‘What’s going on?’ And I said that there was maybe going to be someone going to shoot up our school, and she said, ‘I knew it. That’s why I didn’t want you to go to the United States. I knew something like this would happen,’” Viale said.

Viale said even when she found out the threat was not credible, she still felt uneasy. She said the school made the right decision to cancel classes.

“They didn’t know if it was real or not, so I feel like it was safer for them to cancel class, in order to protect all of us in case it was real,” she said.

Sophomore commuter student Jonathan Liu said he originally did not receive the emergency alert but was quickly made aware of the situation by his friends and checked for the alert on his Newman email.

“After I saw that, I was contacting all my friends saying, ‘Hey, if you didn’t get the alert, stay home,’” Liu said.

Liu also said he thinks the school made the right decision to close down school and that he thinks people should be more careful about reporting what they hear rather than contributing to rumors.

“I don’t feel any less safe, but for those who still feel concerned about this, obviously I can understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “This just goes to show how fast rumors can spread and how serious they can get.”

Floyd said Newman has not informed the student who was accused of making the threat that the rumor was about him, and “probably won’t.”

PHOTO: Emily Larkin, Managing and Online Editor