Criminal Justice

Purdue University Shooting

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The suspect in Tuesday’s shooting at Purdue University has been formally charged
with murder. Students have resumed classes on a somber campus. Amid some
questions about Purdue’s emergency response systems, WFIU’s Jashin Lin takes a
look at the procedures that kicked in from the moment the first shot was reported:

Kris Miller was in a computer lab with his roommate doing homework – just a
normal Tuesday at Purdue University. Then they received a phone call from a friend:
there was a shooting on campus.

“He told me that and we got everybody out of the room and said, hey there’s been a
shooting in the Double E building.”

The Double E building – or Electrical Engineering – was just a few yards from the
building where Miller was working.

“And the first reaction was kind of like – are you serious? Yes, we’re serious. We don’t,
like, practice for things like that. We told them they had to get to a locked classroom
and lock yourselves in until further notice. And that’s when everybody’s phones started
getting text messages and e-mails about the incident about, you need to lock down,
basically.”

But many students in the Electrical Engineering Building weren’t sheltering in place.
Someone had pulled the fire alarm in the building and students were fleeing into
Miller’s building. Miller and his roommate led a group into a classroom and locked
the door.

“I don’t think panic was the word – people were very confused and once we sat down,
everybody’s cellphones came out. Everybody was on twitter trying to figure out what
was going on. Somebody had a police scanner on their phone, we listened to that
trying to figure out what was going on.”

Purdue senior Andrew Boldt was shot in the basement of Electrical Engineering. The
suspected shooter, Cody Cousins was in police custody.

The lockdown lasted for roughly an hour, during which rumors escalated online
– one shooter turned into two, then three. Students posted photos of plainclothes
police officers carrying assault rifles. Information to the outside world came slowly
as well, with the first tweet posted to Purdue’s account nearly 15 minutes after the
initial shooting reports.

Purdue also sent out text messages and emails during the incident. The alerts
directed people to the university website for more information, but it was having
trouble loading.

Still, Acting Provost Tim Sands said in a press conference that he felt Purdue’s
emergency response systems worked as they should.

“I am incredibly impressed with the way that our current procedures work. We
practice them, as Chief Cox says, we hope it doesn’t happen, but you have to assume
that they might. I don’t think there was a moment where everyone didn’t know what
they needed to do.”

“Social media is its own management nightmare in some cases, just because it’s so
fast.”

Indiana University Bloomington Emergency Management director Debbie Fletcher
says in a situation like Tuesday’s, university emergency management teams are
squeezed between law enforcement that doesn’t give out much information for
ongoing investigations, and demands for that information from students, staff, and
the public.

“At this point I would hate to second-guess anything they did. They were trying to be
as clear as possible, they got in front of the cameras pretty early. As soon as they had
information, they provided it to people.”

The question of when and how many times to send out updates is a line emergency
management teams have to walk as well. Not enough, and people won’t have clear
instructions on what to do. Too many, and people may start ignoring the updates.

Former Brady Campaign director Paul Helmke cites the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting
and a more recent armed robbery at Indiana University as arguments for more
information, not less.

“People that get upset that they had the text and had to delete it later or it interrupted
whatever they were doing – but if they hadn’t go that text and an armed robber had
shown up at their classroom or their dorm, then we would have had a real tragedy.”

While students come together over candlelight and prayers, Purdue police
chief John Cox says they’ll be making time down the road to discuss possible
improvements to their emergency response procedures.

“We have those conversations often. Unfortunately sometimes we get pushed together
like this […] And we will, as the provost mentioned, go back and do a lessons learned
from this, share that with our senior administration and share it with the community
so we can make the process better.”

Funeral services for Andrew Boldt will take place January 28. He will be laid to rest
in his hometown of West Bend, Wisconsin.

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