A fire alarm blaring in the middle of the night. Students stumbling groggily from their beds. One man with a rifle and a vendetta, but with only one victim — himself.
On March 18, 2013, James Oliver Seevakumaran, a 30-year-old UCF student majoring in business, attempted a killing spree at the Tower 1 student housing building on campus.
According to surveillance footage, Seevakumaran pulled the fire alarm inside the tower at 12:20 a.m., which the UCF Police Department concluded was to get everyone outside and make them easier targets.
Seevakumaran’s roommate, Arabo Babakhani, saw him standing in the hallway with a rifle and called 911. Three minutes later, UCFPD was on the scene, but by the time they found Seevakumaran, he had killed himself in his dorm room.
UCF Police Chief Richard Beary attributed his officers’ fast response time as one of the reasons the situation didn’t escalate into something much worse.
Originally, officers were responding to a call about the fire alarm. When the call changed, they had to adapt to new circumstances.
“The call changed while they were on scene,” Beary said. “You have no idea what you’re actually getting into until you get there.”
That’s one of the reasons Beary said UCFPD stresses response time: to give officers enough time to adjust to situations that are constantly morphing into other things.
After the incident, new details came to light about just how severe the incident could have been. Police found around 1,000 rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs hidden in Seevakumaran’s room. They also uncovered a detailed plan for the attack, one that ended with the words “give them hell.”
Since the near attack, Beary said that both UCFPD and the university have taken steps to increase safety measures on campus.
The hope, Beary said, is that these types of things don’t happen at all, but historically, they’ve occurred all over college campuses, from dorms to counseling centers.
“It’s just you cannot predict human behavior and that is going to always be the challenge,” he explained.
Since the incident, to beef up security measures, UCF has switched up leasing policies — Seevakumaran wasn’t enrolled in classes or paying rent at the time. Additionally, UCFPD has taken over video surveillance from campus security cameras and made improvements to building access.
There have also been improvements on the mental health side of this issue, with the school hiring more counselors and making changes to the UCF Cares program to help students who could turn to violence.
Beary said there’s been an increase in students reporting people they know after noticing changes in their behavior as well, and even self-reporting has gone up as students try to get the help they need.
The safety measures seem to be paying off.
Brett Pertuch, a junior computer science major who has lived in the Towers for two years, said he thinks the complex does a good job of keeping people safe.
Before he moved in, he had heard of the near-shooting incident, but it didn’t sway his decision to live at the Towers.
“Shootings can happen anywhere at any time,” he said. “There’s no point in living with that fear.”
Ashlea Al-Bahou, a freshman finance major and Towers resident, said she too feels completely safe on campus. But she pointed out that while she is confident in her safety, she feels like there are a few security risks surrounding how the Towers operate.
“Towers are pretty safe. You need your I.D. and pin number to get into the building,” Al-Bahou said. “It’s easy for people to wait outside for someone to open the door and just walk in, though.”
Although they agreed about the school’s overall safety, the residents disagreed over how concealed weapons laws, like Florida Senate Bill 68 — the campus carry bill that died in Judiciary Committee on March 11 — would affect the school’s safety.
Al-Bahou said she was strongly against guns on campus, but Pertuch argued that in the hands of professionals, guns are completely safe. But in the possession of someone “who is not sound of mind,” no law would be able to stop the threat.
“If someone decides they want to do what almost occurred in 2013, a petty weapons policy will not stop them,” Pertuch said. “A weapon is a weapon, whether it's a gun or a plastic fork. The real weapon is the person wielding it.”
Chief Beary disagreed. He said legislation allowing guns on campus could put weapons in the hands of untrained individuals and create a huge liability.
“I’ve been a fire arms instructor for almost 30 years. I know about guns,” Beary said. “My firm belief is that additional guns on campus will not make us safer. It will put people at greater risk.”
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@centralfloridafuture.com.