Gun scare sparks on-campus lockdown
MPD says person of interest is off-duty policeman
A gun scare on AU’s campus triggered a two-hour lockdown right before 8 p.m. on Dec. 11 as D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and AU Department of Public Safety officers searched for a possible gunman.
The campus-wide lockdown was lifted at 9:23 p.m. after AU issued a fifth and final alert.
MPD confirmed at 9:27 p.m. that there was no gun on campus or a suspect in custody despite an AU Alert stating “suspect is in custody” at 9:23 p.m.
However, as Public Safety gathered more information, the department determined there was no crime and therefore the person was not a suspect, according to Camille Lepre, assistant vice president of communication.
“We put out information very quickly to the entire AU community about what we saw as a potential threat to our students,” Lepre said in an email. “Let me clarify, our community.”
MPD received a call about a gunman near AU’s campus at 7:42 p.m., according to a MPD department spokesperson. Public Safety and MPD arrived at campus to investigate at 8:06 p.m., according to a second AU Alert.
The incident began after an AU student saw person carrying a holster on the shuttle, took a picture and alerted Public Safety, according to MPD 2nd District Watch Commander Lt. Jesse Porter.
“American University Public Safety received a citizen’s report of a man with a gun on an AU shuttle bus,” according to an email from Maralee Csellar, associate director of media relations at AU.
AU emailed the first AU Alert at 7:55 p.m. on Dec. 11, and subsequently sent out five updates between 8:28 p.m. and 9:25 p.m., according to the emergency notification page the University created.
Porter said the situation was a misunderstanding.
At 8:56 p.m., Public Safety released a photo on Twitter asking for the identification of a white male and female. The tweet has since been deleted. However, the male was an off-duty police officer, Porter said during a press conference held at AU at 9:45 p.m..
Six police cars went to the Berkshire Apartments to search for the suspect around 9 p.m.
Gun scare affects finals
During the lockdown, some finals scheduled for 8:10 p.m. were postponed while others continued.
Deyanira Soriano and Victoria Bera, juniors in the College of Arts and Sciences, said they were taking a final in the Watkins Building at the time.
“We were really stressed out because we weren’t getting the alerts at the same time as other students,” Bera said. “We were able to hear the helicopters outside [while we were taking the exam].”
Soriano said AU was right to be “better safe than sorry” despite the slow pace of alerts.
Administration reacts to lockdown
The system worked, Lepre said in an email.
“American University thanks the entire AU community for their cooperation during this incident. Every student is safe tonight,” she said in a statement. “In this case, someone saw something and said something.”
AU handled the situation according to the emergency protocols set in place, Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson said.
“I think what we take from this is that people are being vigilant and if they see something that doesn’t look right to them they report it, and that’s a very good place to be in,” Hanson said.
Mark Natale and Eagle staff writers Chloe Johnson, Heather Mongilio, Tori Dalcourt and Devin Mitchell contributed to this report.