2 years after Tower 1, UCF police chief discusses how to spot a killer

For each person who grabbed a gun in an attempt to kill classmates or colleagues, there was a person who could have grabbed a phone and gotten them help.

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For each person who grabbed a gun in an attempt to kill classmates or colleagues, there was a person who could have grabbed a phone and gotten them help.

In the case of James Oliver Seevakumaran — a UCF student gunman who attempted a killing spree two years ago today — it was a student, who spoke to the Central Florida Future anonymously after the incident, who felt he could have intervened.

The student emailed a eulogy to the paper in which he said, "That I could have been that friend who may have saved his life or gotten him the professional help needed to do so. That I could have turned him around if only I had reached out one more time to see why he had become so distant. I thought nothing of it."

Instead, on March 18, 2013, the UCF campus was rattled after Seevakumaran's plot to murder the residents of Tower 1 failed. The morning began at 12:20 a.m. when Seevakumaran pulled a fire alarm inside the campus apartments, according to surveillance footage. UCF Police concluded he did so in order to get everyone outside. Around the same time, his roommate Arabo Babakhani called 911 after spotting him holding a rifle in the hallway. About five minutes later, UCF PD was on the scene and Seekakumaran had killed himself. It was later found that the student's rifle had jammed.

For the next several months, the severity of the incident began to unfold. In an After-Action Review, it was found that the 30-year-old business major had a rifle, around 1,000 rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs hidden in his Tower 1 room — along with a planned campus attack that ended with "give them hell." He had also been communicating with a convicted killer and receiving weapons through the mail — two 22-round magzines, a hawk tactical sling and a DVD on shooting that had been delivered to the UCF mail room, but never picked up.

Since the attempted Tower 1 shooting, UCF has been spared from any major incidents, but other schools such as Florida State University and Bethune-Cookman have not been as fortunate.

On Nov. 20, 2014, a former FSU student opened fire in its Strozier library, injuring three people. FSU campus police shot and killed the shooter. Then, on Feb. 23, an altercation at a campus parking lot left three B-CU students injured.

The day after the FSU shooting, UCF Police Chief Richard Beary held a press conference to address campus safety.

"What we try to make sure our students understand is if something doesn't look right, tell us," Beary said in a previous interview with the Central Florida Future. "If you see something, say something. If somebody doesn't look right, if you get that intuition that something's not right, let law enforcement decide, but the key is we have to know and we have to know quickly. It doesn't do us any good the next day."

Beary described the telltale sign of a student in crisis as a student engaging in behavior out of the norm.

"Let's say you've been around somebody for a year in school and all of a sudden now they're withdrawn or they become very angry; you see postings on the Internet or writings where they're becoming aggressive and anger is starting to flow very clearly; that's when we need to start intervening and making sure that that person is OK and find out why that behavior change has occurred," Beary said.

Several people who knew Seevakumaran described him as a loner, disconnected from his family and someone who had trouble with women.

Soon after the incident, one person even said, "He just reminded me of the type of person who would shoot up a school."

It's up to faculty, staff and classmates to recognize students in crisis. Karen Hoffman, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said it can be as easy as reaching out to someone and asking if they're OK. This is what Hoffman calls a first-level intervention. A second-level intervention would be once an issue has been established, taking the next step forward.

"If they are in distress, if they are in crisis, if they're depressed, they're experiencing any kind of mental health issue, seeing if they are open to coming to counseling and psychological services for an initial assessment and seeing what we can do from that level," Hoffman said.

Counseling is something people need to be open to, Hoffman said. It's not something that can be forced on somebody.

"If somebody is not open to going to counseling or receiving help in that way, you can put a student of concern report through Student Care Services that will ensure that somebody is touching base with that student," Hoffman said.

In its After-Action Review, UCF identified a few red flags that could have possibly helped to avoid the Tower 1 incident. Seevakumaran was not currently enrolled in classes, and had not paid tuition or housing fees. He continued to live in his Tower 1 apartment even after being locked out. Those who knew him added he had recently quit his job and lost his car.

Chief Beary said all a student has to do is notify a staff or faculty member of their concerns and the message should be relayed to UCFPD. For those in a crisis situation, call the CAPS Crisis Line at 407-823-2811, or the Crisis Center at 407-425-2624.

"The last thing we want is another bad situation on campus, so we try to stay ahead of those and that's why we encourage reporting with the faculty, staff and the students," Beary said. "Let us know and we will deal with it. Most of the time there's no criminal behavior, it's just an individual in crisis and we will do everything we can to provide them the services they need to get through that difficult challenge in their life, and by doing that I think we make everybody a whole lot safer."

One unique aspect of the UCFPD is that almost all of its officers have been through crisis intervention training, which helps them understand and recognize signs of mental illness and help those people in need.

"If we see a student in crisis we try to deal with it ahead of time before it explodes, because it will," he said.

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Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at alex.wexelman.123@gmail.com.

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