Lockdown causes panic–and apathy

  • A Snapchat post containing this image of AB student Nathan Macek prompted a lockdown of Alderson Broaddus University by school officials on Monday, Sept. 25. Photo from 12 News – WBOY.
By Lora Owston

Tensions were high at Alderson Broaddus University when the campus was placed under lockdown due to a terroristic threat on Sept. 25. Authorities were alerted at 10:09 a.m., according to the Philippi Police Department, and a lockdown alert was issued by Alderson Broaddus University at 10:36 a.m. via their Heads Up app.

Over the course of the incident, faculty, staff, and students were unaware of the details that provoked the lockdown. Limited information about the nature of the threat was released at the time, and individuals reacted differently.

“I was panicking,” said Kayla McKinney, Assistant Professor of English. “No one seemed panicked, I mean a few students texted to let parents know, but they were pretty upbeat – actually they weren’t too worried.”

McKinney’s classroom was located on the third floor of Burbick Hall. However, upon realizing that the doors were unable to lock, the students were moved to a back room in ACES to insure their safety. “I think, unfortunately, in recent history all professors think about what if this were to happen,” said McKinney. “You’re responsible for those students; so my first instinct was to kind of get them to safety…there were some (students) who were getting impatient as we sat in ACES, saying, ‘I’m going to walk back to my room,’ no, you’re absolutely not, I’m responsible for you until this is over.”

The same unfazed attitude could not be said of some students in the Myers Hall auditorium. “I just wanted to proceed with (the) lecture,” said Shelby Wilson, Instructor of Nursing. “…so I tried to do that and one (student) in particular just totally panicked, then I just couldn’t go on because they were just so panicked.”

The doors in the auditorium were locked, and Wilson was able to use her own keys to lock a side door in the room. However, these measures did not appear to calm some of the students in her classroom.

“Half of my class went into a closet room and barricaded themselves in, and the other half of us just stayed out until we just got a clear,” said Wilson. “To me, I just stay calm, there’s no need to panic until there’s a reason to panic. Had I heard a gunshot, or something like that, then it would have been a totally different scenario of what I would have done with my students to put them somewhere else.”

Similar sentiments about the necessity to stay calm during an emergency were echoed by Jonathan Wolf, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice. Earlier this year, Wolf was present at a mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale where six people died.

“I would advise people to try not to panic during emergencies like these,” said Wolf. “During the Fort Lauderdale shooting, a panicked 30 something old female tried to hide in a police car, but she failed to see the words ‘K9’ on the side of the car.  The girl (went) into the back seat, and before she realized a large police dog was inside, (she) got bit to shreds.”

Matt Sisk, Director of Campus Safety, emphasized the gravity of the situation. “Any time the institution says there is a lockdown, they need to treat it seriously. No matter what the case may be, if we say there’s a lockdown, it needs to be treated seriously.”

Safety has been a big concern for faculty, staff, and students in the wake of the incident. Despite the presence of the lockdown, individuals were sighted not only walking around campus during the incident, but also driving to and from campus. Many instructors also discovered that they were unable to lock the doors in the rooms that they occupied.

“The emergency response team is meeting…about once a week. So, we just met…two days after the event, so that gave us some time to kind of gather some information,” said Sisk. “We have decided to reevaluate several protocols and procedures…We want to identify weaknesses and try to correct those.”

Sisk has since contacted the deans of every college in an effort to identify possible problems across campus. He urged students, faculty, and staff to inform the emergency response team of any potential safety concerns that they may have in the wake of the incident. The emergency response team is also closely reevaluating mass communication systems.

“Originally, we had a text notification system,” said Sisk. “It was not obligatory, so there was nothing I could do to force someone to sign up for it and we had almost nobody signed up for it. So the thought was apps – people have a lot more apps.”

Alderson Broaddus University replaced their emergency text notification system with their Heads Up app in early 2016. While its main purpose is for campus events and announcements, users can opt out of everything but emergency notifications in their settings.

“One of the things that I would like to do is to be able to host several trainings with students, faculty, staff, and whoever else that wants to have it, on campus as much as possible and to empower them to know what to do in these kinds of situations,” said Sisk. “There is a lot to do, and that they can do, to make themselves active bystanders rather than victim bystanders.”

The lockdown was precipitated by a social media threat to Alderson Broaddus University, which occurred on Sunday, Sept. 24, but was not made known to campus authorities until the following day. A 21 year-old senior Alderson Broaddus student, Nathan Macek of Guysville, Ohio, was arrested. Additionally, Macek is currently prohibited from returning to campus.

The Philippi Police Department, Barbour County Sheriff’s Department, West Virginia State Police, Philippi Detachment, and AB campus safety were present at the scene. Authorities searched for Macek for approximately 45 minutes on Monday before Philippi police took him into custody at an off campus frat house. Authorities are still searching for the gun used in the social media post and search warrants were obtained, according to the Philippi Police Department. However, no items were taken from Macek’s residence.

“To the best of my knowledge…no warrant was ever presented,” said Adam Zirkelbach, a resident of the frat house where Macek was living. “I don’t know if they searched through his stuff, and I’m not sure if they took anything out of his room. I know he came back later with his police escort the same day, and he retrieved his computer and some of his clothes and stuff.”

A warrant was, however, presented to Macek’s former roommate Derrick Smith. Macek allegedly moved out of Smith’s room and into the frat house several weeks prior to the incident.

“They confiscated three of my computers, a cellphone, and my tablet,” said Smith. “The only thing they confiscated of his was his iPhone 6. Yet in the warrant they classified everything in the room as belonging to him.”

Police continue to retain Smith’s property as evidence. The warrant alleged that these electronics contain evidence relating to the social media threat, according to Smith.

Macek admitted to posting a photo of himself holding a gun saying, “I’m going to shoot up AB” on the social media platform Snapchat. Macek contends that the photo was posted at approximately 3 p.m. on the 24th and stated that he sent it to four friends as a joke, according to the criminal complaint. Macek is being charged with making terroristic threats and was held on a bond of $25,000. The bond was paid the same day by Macek’s father, according to the bondsman, Ronald Walton.

“It’s pretty broad,” said Thomas Hoxie, Barbour County Prosecutor, on the nature of the charge. “It’s any person who knowingly and willfully threatens to commit a terrorist act, with or without the intent to commit the act…It’s one to three years in the penitentiary and a fine…of $5,000 to $25,000. And he’d be a felon – that’s a felony.”

A preliminary hearing was set for Oct. 4 to establish probable cause. However, the hearing was waived. Hoxie will instead present his case to 16 members of the community at grand jury. “They will decide whether they want me to pursue a case or not to pursue a case,” said Hoxie.

The grand jury could convene as early as Oct. 30.

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