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UNLV students furious at school’s response to shooting threat

Updated October 23, 2019 - 10:24 am

UNLV students confronted administrators Tuesday over the university’s response to a shooting threat discovered in a bathroom stall on campus on Oct. 10.

At an at-times tense meeting hosted by the Residence Hall Association, speakers told Interim Provost Chris Heavey, Vice President Juanita Fain and head of police services Adam Garcia that the five-day delay between finding the threat and alerting the campus had put students at risk.

On-campus residents furthermore said that the existing security measures on campus, such as guards who failed to check ID cards at the residence halls, created an ongoing safety issue.

Garcia said the threat, which indicated a shooting would occur on Oct. 16, was handled in conjunction with the FBI, which knew about it within an hour of when it was first reported to University Police.

Police hoped to investigate and make an arrest before alerting the campus, according to Garcia. Instead, when the threat was found to not be credible, the university sent an announcement in the afternoon on Oct. 14 “out of an abundance of caution,” Garcia said.

But student and resident adviser Karissa Luna said that gave students approximately 36 hours to learn of the email, make arrangements with their professors and decide whether to come to class before the threatened shooting on Oct. 16.

Luna added that students seeking support after the fact were also met with three-week long waiting lists at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services, despite the university advertising this service in its messaging to students.

Choice between safety, academics

Student Candace Mays said the university’s course of action put an undue burden on African American students, who were the specific targets of the threat, along with supporters of Bernie Sanders.

“We had to choose between safety and academic performance because you feel like our safety and the perception of our safety is optional,” Mays said.

Heavey said the university chose to keep the campus open because it was “broadly safe,” and administrators were confident in the increased police presence and existing security. He added that professors were instructed to not punish students who chose to stay away from campus, though any instances of students’ grades suffering would be need to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Student Lauren Washington pointed out that for African American students in particular, an increased police presence was not necessarily reassuring.

“I feel more unsafe with police surrounding me than when they’re not,” Washington said, adding that classes should have been canceled.

Students suggested specific measures the university could take to apologize to affected students and improve security on campus, like building a fence around the residence halls and stationing security at the dining halls. Garcia said the university has discussed limiting access points to the halls while also consolidating security personnel.

The meeting turned emotional at times as students recounted telling their parents of the shooting threat, or reliving memories associated with the Oct. 1 Route 91 Harvest festival shooting in 2017.

Upset president didn’t attend

Students also expressed frustration that UNLV President Marta Meana did not attend the forum, despite an RHA letter extending an invitation. University spokeswoman Cindy Brown told the Review-Journal that Marta was at a “previously scheduled business function” during the meeting.

In another tense exchange, students confronted Garcia after he said he was in Reno on the day of the threatened shooting. Garcia and the university later clarified that he was on campus on Oct. 16, and had misheard the question as one about the 2017 shooting, when he was working in Reno.

University police officer Bree Torrey also attended the meeting and told students that she was available to listen to their concerns about safety. On the day of the threatened shooting, Torrey said she felt “fired up.”

“I was going to get between every single one of you — regardless of race, gender, or orientation — I was going to get between every one of you and that bullet,” Torrey said.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at (702) 383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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