UCF Police received reports of a gunwoman inside the campus library Tuesday, but after searching the building found no threat. Video by Caroline Glenn, Central Florida Future. Photos by Jillian James & Nicholas Graves
Rumors of an armed woman inside the campus library Tuesday left the UCF community unnerved. The way in which the scare was handled left some students angry and confused, which university Police Chief Richard Beary addressed at a press conference Wednesday.
UCF Police dispatch received 10 calls after an initial post in the group chat platform GroupMe. The message, which was released to media Wednesday, states “…we saw the girl, I didn’t see the gun but [name redacted] said she’s 90% sure that’s what she had in her hands and the girl was like Muslim and in a corner like freaking out.”
A similar post soon appeared in a closed Facebook group about "someone who appeared to be holding a gun in their hands and praying."
As the calls became more frequent, the situation was upgraded from a Code 2 to a Code 3, Beary explained, and officers responded immediately to evacuate the entire building. Courtney Gilmartin, UCFPD public information officer, did not know how many students were in the library at the time of evacuation.
Students and media congregated around the library until the scene was cleared as officers focused their efforts on securing the possible threat inside. Some questioned the safety in allowing students to remain so close to the building.
UCF received some heat Tuesday when an alert described a rumored gunwoman as "Middle Eastern." Police Chief Richard Beary addressed media Wednesday. Video by Caroline Glenn & Isabelle D'Antonio
“That library is five floors and 226,000 square feet. It’s not just open landscape – there are individual offices, study rooms and conference rooms,” he said. “This was a huge task. It was the equivalent of trying to search 150 homes, room by room. The decision was made to put our resources inside the building to determine if there was a threat.”
Members of the community were urged to avoid the area through a UCF alert that went out around 3:52 p.m., although many students were upset with the message's language.
The alert read "POSSIBLE MIDDLE EASTERN GUN MAN/WOMAN IN UCF MAIN CAMPUS LIBRARY. AVOID THE AREA!" in all caps.
“It wasn’t meant to be insensitive,” Beary said. “These are time-sensitive situations. We have 180 characters to put out a text as quickly as possible. How much time do you really have to wordsmith that?”
The description, he added, was used multiple times in the 911 phone calls.
“If we offended anybody, that was never our intention. Our intention was to get the information out as quickly as possible,” Beary said. “At the end of the day, our response was not perfect. We’ll make it better. Given the resources that we have and given that we’re an open campus, I think we’re doing an incredible job.”
Police continue to investigate who the suspected woman might be, although officers found "no threat" inside the building, which was reopened around 5 p.m.
“We have gone through video frame by frame. We think we have identified someone that may be that individual, and our investigators are currently working on that,” he said.
One witness who called in said the woman had "some sort of weapon."
“We were sitting in the stairwell and this girl came in. She was wearing a hijab," the caller said. "She looked really panicky and shaky. As soon as she saw us, she went to the corner of the stairwell and started kind of falling to her knees. I’m assuming she was praying… we didn’t think much of it. My friend saw a silver and black handheld object. It was some sort of weapon. We ran down and told the desk. They didn’t really take us seriously. It was in the stairwell going from the third to the fourth floor.”
Other callers reported seeing rumors on social media, which Beary said has made it easy for false alarms to spread quickly, but the department must investigate all threats.
“In my line of work, I only get to be wrong once,” he said. “And when we’re wrong, people get hurt.”
After the scene was cleared, students were alarmed once more when a gun accidentally discharged, sending a bullet into the roof of a police car. The officer responsible accidentally misfired as he was storing his firearm in his car, Beary explained, and no one was injured.
The officer, Beary added, has more than 30 years experience and actually wrote himself up for the incident. Even so, the department plans to further investigate the incident to determine if it was an equipment problem.
Isabelle D'Antonio is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.