By Heather Soltis
On Sunday, Nov. 25, the weekend of Thanksgiving, students were busy packing and heading back to Furman before the first day of class. But some journeys back to school were halted or disrupted by the Security Advisory alert that was sent out at 4:00 p.m.
A note was found with an “imaginary scenario of future violence taking place in Furman Hall, in which the author imagines himself or herself, or perhaps a third party, as entering the building armed, barricading doors, and engaging in a shooting spree.”
Students, parents, faculty and staff were alerted by the IRIS emergency notification system, which uses e-mail, texting and phone calls to alert the community.
E-mail was chosen for this incident because space was needed to describe the context of the note and explain that it could be a threat or a hoax.
It is strongly encouraged for students to make sure their cell phone number is listed in their MyFurman account, under “Student Directory” and “Emergency Notification Data Entry”, so that it can be utilized in similar situations. A hotline was set up for parents to call with concerns while Furman Police worked to locate the author of the note, and students were advised to talk to the Counseling Center if they felt stressed and anxious about the alert.
The note was found the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and the investigation began immediately, but seeing as most students had already left and the campus was deserted, the Furman community was not notified until Sunday.
State and federal law enforcement were called in and President Smolla assembled a group of trustees and an attorney to discuss the best way to proceed. It was President Smolla who first suggested that the note seemed like a class assignment. From the point of view of the law enforcement, it didn’t seem like a threat, but in the words of Robert Miller, Director of University Police, “It was not a risk we were going to take”.
The faculty was sent a more detailed description of the note in the hopes that it would be recognized as an assignment. A professor came forward, saying he recognized it as part of a speech given in his class that advocated for concealed weapons on campus. The note was a hypothetical situation designed to illustrate the possibility of a need for weapons as a means of self-defense. An explanatory message was sent out Monday morning stating that the note was part of an assignment that was taken out of context.
An increased police presence on campus took place during the following week to reassure students of their safety and to keep tabs on the atmosphere around campus. Extra deputies from Greenville County and Furman Police patrolled the halls of academic buildings and were stationed in the dining hall.
Mark Kelly, VP of Marketing and Public Relations, summarized the experience as “something we would never want to have happen, but it was good for us to be able to see how we’d be able to respond. We found some things we missed and lots of things we did well.”
With insight from President Smolla and effective teamwork on part of the Furman Police, the perceived threat was responded to with a logical progression of events and adherence to security policies.
In retrospect, with regards to the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it is comforting to know that Furman has such an extensive approach to campus security and that there are a variety of measures in place to both inform and support us.