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
The UCF alert was undoubtedly jarring.
“Possible Middle Eastern gun man/women in UCF main campus library. Avoid the area!” in all caps went out Tuesday at 3:52 p.m.
Officers arrived within minutes and evacuated every floor of the building.
“They came over the intercom and told us there was a potential threat. It wasn’t until I got the UCF alert that I knew the person had a gun," UCF student Kayla Stevens said. "Within minutes the officers rushed in carrying huge guns.”
Evacuated students and media congregated outside the library until officers concluded there was no threat and reopened the library around 5 p.m. By then, dozens of students had already posted to Facebook letting their friends and families know they were OK.
Criticized by many members of the community, use of the description "Middle Eastern" stemmed from several 911 calls that came through UCF dispatch.
Callers described the suspected woman as wearing a hijab and praying. The group chat conversation that sparked the scare said "the girl was like Muslim."
The Muslim Student Association at UCF responded by saying that “Naturally, many of us felt a sense of negligence and disappointment in the alert's language.”
Although UCF Police Chief Richard Beary defended use of the description at a press conference Wednesday, others have chastised the decision.
“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.
“It wasn’t meant to be insensitive. 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?”
Students have taken to social media to share their concerns over the wording.
“I feel like it was ridiculous to tell us that before they even knew the gender of the person," said Ashley Joyce-Nyack, a junior political science major. "It wouldn't have helped us find the person, especially because there was no threat."
Asima Choudhury, a freshman legal studies major, wrote on her Facebook page, “I shouldn't have to come home from a day of exams and then have parents lecture me on the phone saying, 'Are you okay? You don't look like a Muslim, but people know you are, so you have to be safe. People don't understand that we're good people and sometimes things get out of hand, so be safe please Asima.'"
However, many students praised the fast response time from UCFPD, as did Beary who gave the response time an A.
“Whether this is a real threat or not, it's nice to know that campus police take these things so seriously," said junior health sciences major Andrew Ward. "It definitely feels much safer.”
Jillian James is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future.