Central Connecticut State University officials say they had no choice but to lock down the campus Monday in response to reports of a suspicious person who turned out to be a student in a ninja costume.
CCSU issued a campus-wide warning to students and staff Monday afternoon to stay indoors and away from windows after police received several calls about a suspicious person on campus, whom many of the callers worried was a gunman.
Officers from Connecticut State Police and the CCSU, New Britain and Newington police departments all responded to campus, as well as personnel from the ATF, FBI and Homeland Security.
As students took shelter, they were, by some accounts, provided with little additional information. Rumors flew on Twitter that a man had been spotted with a gun, a knife or a sword. The school's Office of Marketing and Communications assumed responsibility for emergency notifications, which are normally handled by the CCSU police department.
"The notices were based on available credible, confirmed information," CCSU associate vice president of communications Mark Warren McLaughlin told HuffPost. "The information we received mentioned that there was a suspicious person who may have a weapon, but this had not been confirmed. And there were other reports that mentioned only that the person was suspiciously dressed."
McLaughlin said they had reason to take the reports seriously at the time, in spite of the incomplete information about the situation. In the interest of "safety and speed," the university decided to issue lockdown orders without providing more specific information to the community. It was the "simplest directive" the university could issue, McLaughlin said.
"I wish more information had been available to us, but I certainly understand that during the chaos of an ongoing large-scale, complex investigation, confirmed information is hard to come by," McLaughlin said.
But the results of that investigation were confirmed later, when the campus learned that officers had taken into custody a student dressed as the character Snake Eyes from "G.I. Joe," carrying a steel sword and a BB gun. David Kyem, a 21-year-old senior and the son of a professor, surrendered without incident and was taken into custody for causing the scare. He was warned not to return to campus until he had met with administrators, the Associated Press reports. No shots were fired, and no weapons were found.
NBC Connecticut reports that, according to his father, Kyem was wearing the costume because of a party he had attended the night before.
CCSU President Jack Miller defended the lockdown in a statement warning that "behavior that causes widespread fear among our students and staff cannot and will not be tolerated."
"You can never be too vigilant nor react too strongly to the threat of violence," Miller said. "All potential threats must be taken very seriously, and the response must be a reaction to worst-case scenarios."
National experts on campus security said the decision to withhold information in a campus-wide alerts is not unusual.
"Often when a suspect is not in custody, a campus may distribute information immediately but leave out anything detailed about the incident so as not to compromise the investigation,"said Alison Kiss, executive director of
the Clery Center for Security On Campus. "As long as they include constant updates and follow-up information, it is permissible."
The U.S. Department of Education wants colleges to include all known information in timely alerts, said S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at the VTV Family Outreach Foundation. He suggested that when details are still unconfirmed, it's acceptable to distribute warnings without further explanation.
"When an institution has specific details about the nature of an incident, they should disclose them," Carter said, "but if the facts are uncertain, the key is that they take steps to get information out that will protect students, employees and others on campus as quickly as possible ... It appears to me that CCSU adhered to the intent of the Clery Act's emergency notification requirements with respect to the incident."