URI ends lockdown, says no gun or gunman on campus

Updated at: 04/04/2013 7:36 PM
By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI

(AP) SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. - The University of Rhode Island was under lockdown for about 2 1/2 hours Thursday after reports of someone with a gun on its rural South Kingstown campus, but police found no gunman, weapon or danger at any time.

Rhode Island State Police Capt. Frank Castellone said state police received calls at 11:22 a.m. reporting a person with a gun in Chafee Hall, a high-rise building that houses several academic departments and classrooms. According to police, a professor believed she heard someone in her lecture hall say, "I’m a good guy and I have a gun."

"At that point things got crazy in the classroom," Castellone said.

By early afternoon, calm had returned. But classes were canceled for the rest of the day.

A toy Nerf gun was found inside a backpack that belonged to a student, police said, though they said they didn’t know if it had any connection to the incident.

Police were considering a possible connection to an on-campus game run by a sanctioned student group called "Humans Vs. Zombies." Its website describes it as a game of tag that involves foam dart blasters but notes that "realistic looking weaponry" is prohibited.

Group president Ryan Cabral told The Associated Press he talked to players who were in the building at the time and he also reached out to campus police to answer any questions they had.

He insisted the game, which he said is played at hundreds of college campuses, had no connection to Thursday’s scare. He said it was scheduled to end Friday, but was postponed until later in the semester.

People in the classroom at the time, a physiology class taught by lecturer Barbara Van Sciver, had differing accounts of what happened.

Student Tori Danielson said she was sitting in the back of the auditorium with several hundred students when a commotion started toward the front of the class.

"All of a sudden, we heard someone yell, `You’re a nice guy! You’re a nice guy!’ and sounding scared," she said, adding that people started to move away from the area where the person was shouting. "Everybody started running and screaming out of the room, and our professor told us all to run. And everybody just ran out."

"I didn’t hear anybody say that there was a weapon, and I didn’t see if there was. I was too far away," she added.

Another student, junior Kayla Gilmore, said she was also at the back sitting near one of the doors into the upper part of the auditorium.

"I heard a guy banging, and he said `Let me in. Let me in. I have a gun," she said. "It must have been locked because he couldn’t get in."

She said people froze when the banging began, then ducked under their chairs before the teacher told them to run. They left through doors in the lower part of the auditorium, she said.

Van Sciver did not immediately return phone or email messages seeking comment.

Law enforcement officers and police dogs entered Chafee Hall and searched it room by room. At least three people received minor injuries in the rush to exit the building, URI Police Chief Stephen Baker said.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said in a statement the state will review how the situation was handled. URI President David Dooley said the university, which has 13,000 undergraduates, also would review whether students took the lockdown seriously; many were walking around campus while the situation was going on despite being ordered to stay inside.

Michael Wharton and Robert Ferrante were on their way to an animal science class at Chafee Hall when they saw people streaming out of the building. Wharton, an 18-year-old freshman, said he heard someone yell, "Go, go! He’s got a gun."

The two roommates then ran back to their dorm room.

"It was chaos," Ferrante, a 19-year-old freshman, said.

Paige Comstock, a 19-year-old sophomore, was on the second floor of the building in a journalism class at the time. She said some of her classmates said they heard screams, then an alarm went off and a voice came over the loudspeaker warning of an emergency in the building.

"We didn’t know if it was a drill," she said, but then the department head told them to leave immediately.

As she was going out, Comstock said she saw more than a dozen police officers rushing into the building.

Classes were set to resume Friday.

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Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report from Providence.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)