University of Alberta was facing criticism it left students “blind” by restricting information while a killer fled after shooting three armoured-car guards near a residence.
The triple homicide at a residence and mall called HUB left the campus in shock and many questioning the limited warnings offered by the university.
University officials decided on an “administrative response” rather than a more comprehensive alert after a room-to-room search by police determined there was "no immediate threat." But this was cold comfort to those gripped with fear during the initial uncertainty.
In one case, less than an hour after the shooting, a person in the basement of HUB was aware something was happening and desperate for information. With nothing coming from the university, she turned to Twitter.
“There is a shooter upstairs. Can you please tell me what is going on?” Elisa Stamatakis pleaded, adding later: “We were blind in the basement of HUB, but thankful for twitter updating us.”
Also unnerved was business student Theo Kim. He had heard what he thought were firecrackers as he walked from HUB to a nearby library. He said that people “freaked out” about an hour later when the severity of the incident began to emerge.
“Obviously [we were] scared the gunman could be anywhere,” he said. “So we were just panicking, saying ‘Lock the rooms! Lock the rooms!’”
Members of a walking service which helps people arrive safely at night were stunned to stumble upon two bodies in the gory aftermath of the shooting. Volunteer Sapphira Nuttall called it the “worst night ever.”
Student union president Colten Yamagishi noted a bit more than two hours after the incident that there had been no campus-wide official word. At the time he urged an immediate alert. But Friday morning, after having talked to school officials, he said that he stood behind their decision to keep it somewhat quiet.
“They didn’t want people running out of the building,” he said, noting that the area was soon crawling with police officers.
Mr. Amrhein, the provost, acknowledged that they had heard questions about the response. He said the university's actions began with staff ushering students away from the shooting before police arrived. Senior staff, including himself, had not yet been roused.
Arriving police took control of the scene and began a room-to-room search. They were determining whether there was any remaining danger, advising students of the situation and instructing them to remain in their rooms.
Police concluded there was "no immediate threat," Mr. Amrhein said midday Friday. The university activated the announcement system in HUB Mall and chose an "administrative" response which stopped short of notifying the entire student body.
By 1:15 a.m., or just over an hour after the shooting, the university activated its crisis management team. That included waking senior staff and getting them to campus.
At around 2:10 in the morning, the university offered its first public acknowledgement of the incident. In a tweet, the school said that the HUB area was in lockdown and urged students to avoid the area.
At 6:20 a.m., the university sent an e-mail to all staff and students. However, many on the list of approximately 50,000 recipients failed to receive it. The university tried throughout the morning to resend the email, which had also been posted on its website.
The U of A will review its emergency procedures, Mr. Armhein said, not because he thinks it failed but simply "as a matter of course."
Yet some students remained unsatisfied by the university’s response procedures.
“Hopefully this horrible tragedy will help refine the [communication] system,” a person posting as ‘Dash’ wrote online about three hours after the shooting.