Pace of information causes concern after anonymous death threatBy Andy McWhorter | 09/24/2014 9:23am
CW | Belle Newby
“Within minutes, I received a text, a phone call, an email and there was something posted on the Facebook page about the school,” Gair said. “This is a public school in Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
But when Tutwiler Hall was put on lockdown and searched after unconfirmed reports of a gunman in the area and an anonymous death threat was posted on YouTube, The University of Alabama did not send any notification until nearly two hours after the threat was widely posted on social media sites and shared over text messages. The threat was posted under the pen name “Authur Pendragon.”
“At about 10 o’clock is when the threat from [Authur Pendragon] came up in our group message, and we all started freaking out,” said Norris, a freshman majoring in telecommunications and film. “We were totally unaware of what was going on.”
The first notification from the University came at midnight, about two hours after Norris received the message. During the intervening time, University of Alabama Police Department officers established a perimeter around Tutwiler Hall, conducted a search of the building with K-9 units and patrolled Sorority Row telling women to stay inside their houses.
“UAPD responded to reports of individuals with firearms at Tutwiler,” UA Spokesperson Shane Dorrill said, reading from a prepared statement. “Officers thoroughly searched the building and no weapons or unauthorized persons were found. The information that was provided to UAPD and other law enforcements agencies was based on rumors and social media posts and not actual witness accounts. UAPD will continue to investigate the situation to determine where the posts originated.”
Rumors spread quickly without official word from the University, and most information came from social media or eyewitness accounts.
“I looked out my window and there was a cop,” Norris said. “We were notified that police were in Tutwiler, and then about 10:45 I guess is when they started searching the dorms, and they were going from floor to floor.”
A freshman living in Tutwiler who wished to remain anonymous, said she was never told what was happening and never saw a police officer.
“The only way we found out stuff was through Yik Yak or Twitter,” she said.
Norris reached out to her mother in the hope that she would have additional information to offer.
“We didn’t know anything, and I called my mom, naturally, and she had no idea either,” she said. “She’s a part of the UA facebook page of parents, and they knew just as much as we did.”
In fact, Gair said she first found out about the search and the anonymous threat from her daughter.
“It wasn’t anything from the school, it was all through Ashtyn,” she said.
Without a clear source of information, Gair, along with many other parents of UA students, turned to social media for answers.
“I got on Facebook, and a couple of parent’s pages that I was on, and it was just blowing up with the same screenshot of that horrible demented letter that was posted on YouTube,” she said.
Norris also received scattered information from her sorority’s group text message and hearsay in Tutwiler. She said the situation in Tutwiler was tense.
“We were scared, honestly,” she said. “Every noise was basically freaking us out, we would get quiet and listen to the conversation in the hall. Tutwiler was eerily quiet last night, and Tutwiler is almost like a crazy sleepover all the freaking time, and it was dead quiet.”
Norris said she and other women living in Tutwiler were told to remove Greek letters and other sorority material from their doors, since the anonymous threat was directed at Greek students. Monday morning, Norris said she was told not to make her Greek affiliation obvious while on campus.
“I’m on edge, everybody’s on edge,” she said. “We were informed not to wear our sorority letters today, don’t look like an obvious sorority girl walking across campus.”
The University released its first statement about the situation at midnight and Tutwiler residents were allowed back inside. Norris said Tutwiler resident advisors went door-to-door telling residents they could open their doors and that additional security had been placed in the hall.
Gair said she felt comfortable with her daughters safety after the police search, but questioned why an emergency notification had not been sent to parents and students.
“If Ashtyn called me and said, ‘I got this notice from the emergency notification system, we’re on lockdown, we’re supposed to stay in our rooms until further notice,’ I would say outstanding, the school is on top of it, they have it handled, they’ll let us know what happens,” she said. “But nothing. Not a thing.”
In an emailed statement sent at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, UA President Judy Bonner said UAPD confirmed reports of armed individuals were innacurate, but searched the building “in an abundance of caution.”
“Students were never in danger,” Bonner said in the statement. “I can assure you that UA will always respond quickly and notify the campus community when you need to take immediate action. In this case, no one was in danger and immediate action was not required.”
Later on Monday morning, UAPD Chief of Police Tim Summerlin said in an emailed statement that police are aggressively investigating the original message and among other things, are consulting with the FBI.
“While we have no credible information at this point to determine whether this is a legitimate threat, The University of Alabama is taking this situation very seriously,” he wrote.
According to another emailed update sent at 5:10 p.m. Monday, classes will continue as scheduled and the University will resume normal operations.
Another anonymous threat from “Author Pendragon” was disseminated over social media late Monday night. UA Spokesperson Cathy Andreen said UAPD is investigating the threat,
"This is not a new post," Andreen said. "It is 12 hours old. UAPD continues to aggressively investigate the situation. UA is prepared to respond to any situation that impacts the campus."