By Scott Smith
On the evening of Feb. 13, an armed gunman, Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43, walked into Michigan State University and opened fire on a classroom full of students. Three students were killed and five were critically injured. Police and security teams spent the next three hours looking for the suspect.
At 11:35 p.m., police received a call about a person matching the description of the shooter. When officers approached McRae at 11:49 p.m., he then committed suicide.
According to a February 2023 article in the Washington Post, there have been 366 school shootings since 1999 with over 388,000 students affected. The statistic, alarming as it may be, does not account for mass shootings outside of the school systems.
With shootings topping the headlines on an almost weekly basis, many question what is being done to increase safety on campuses such as Cameron University. What actions should students take in the event of an emergency?
John DeBoard serves as the Director of Public Safety and also the Chief of Police for Cameron University. In our discussions about Michigan State and other mass shootings, DeBoard said that procedures began changing after the Columbine shooting in 1999.
In the pre-Columbine era, police would dispatch special weapons units and establish a perimeter. He said the situation would many times result in a standoff as the goal of the perpetrator was not to commit suicide or gain notoriety.
“They were there for a purpose and were planning on getting away,” DeBoard said.
Unfortunately, times have changed and the main goal for contemporary perpetrators is notoriety or to commit suicide, so police tactics have changed drastically.
“The tactics that law enforcement use now are immediate insertion and seek out the shooter,” DeBoard said. “You’ve got to stop what is taking place. You have to seek out the perpetrator and try neutralize the threat, whatever the fashion.
“Those are the tactics we use and our officers train on that every year, as well as most law enforcement throughout the nation.”
DeBoard went on to speak about what students could do in order to be prepared in the event of a shooter situation.
He said the best thing to do is to be prepared in advance. Using a simple Google search, there are numerous online resources and training videos that are available for students and faculty as well as Cameron University’s Online Preparedness Guide located on the CU website. The videos go through active shooter scenarios and provide insights for students in the event of an emergency.
DeBoard said that one of the best things that a person can do is to pay attention to their surroundings, whether on campus, at a store or a bank. Too many times, people are absorbed in their phones or some other device and are not paying attention to what is going on around them.
“If you are going to the store, pay attention to what you are going to the store for, and pay attention to what is around you,” DeBoard said. “When you first pull into a parking lot, look around. Don’t be a victim of a robbery or a carjacking. If you see something that doesn’t look right, don’t park there.”
DeBoard said that the same goes for the campus and he encourages anyone who sees something suspicious or out of place to go ahead and call the campus police. DeBoard said that sometimes calls are received daily and that the campus police are more than willing to check out the reports to keep everyone safe.
While there are no perfect solutions to an active shooter situation, DeBoard said that students should exercise the “run, hide, fight” options.
“If you see something and you can get away from it, get away from it and try to alert the authorities,” DeBoard said. “That’s the first thing you should do.”
The second option is to hide.
“If you find yourself trapped in a situation, try to hide,” DeBoard said.
Finding a hiding spot, even barricading yourself and others inside a classroom may be a good option. If the shooter has a hard time entering, they may choose to leave and go on to another location.
The third option is to fight. If you are trapped in a situation with the shooter, your only option may be to fight the assailant. Pick up anything that can be used as a weapon and try to defend yourself. DeBoard said that this is no doubt the hardest decision to make, but your life and the lives of others may depend on it.
“Some people freeze up in a panic situation.” DeBoard said. “We are all different people, and you don’t really know how you’re going to react until that kind of thing happens.”
DeBoard said the emergency call boxes on campus have been removed. He said that the call boxes came to campus just after cell phones became available and that no one ever used them for any emergency at all.
“Almost everyone has a cell phone now, and the call boxes just weren’t practical, not to mention, they were very costly to maintain,” DeBoard said.
Cameron student and dorm resident Allie Ozuna said she generally feels pretty safe living on campus, especially because of the card access requirements for the dorms.
However, she said there was an event that took place where an outsider had gained access to one of the buildings through an unlocked door and attempted to gain access to the cafeteria and a donation box.
Ozuna said that after an event occurs, her Resident Advisor will give instructions to students about procedures.
“When getting on an elevator with someone suspicious, we were told to have them swipe their access card to make sure they belong there,” Ozuna said. “We were also told not to open doors for someone that knocks and wants in, because they may not be a student.”
In today’s world, students and faculty have to be prepared to deal with emergencies. Knowing what to look for and what to do could make all the difference in an active shooter or an intruder situation.
Cameron University provides an Emergency Preparedness Guide that can be viewed by visiting the Cameron University Website under Campus Safety and Health.
Emergency situations can be reported by calling the Office of Public Safety at 580-581-2911.