Saturday, October 17, 2015

Story Time: A Lockdown on Campus

Happy Saturday! I'm ready to lounge in bed with Netflix and some popcorn after a crazy week full of midterms and projects. 

And also a campus lockdown.  

Let me explain. While I was at a meeting for a campus publication on Wednesday night, everyone's phone started to vibrate and ring. Texts, emails, and phone calls from my school flashed across our screens, warning of a safety threat in the area. All students were advised to remain indoors and avoid Oakwood Cemetery, which borders Syracuse University's campus.  Naturally, the other students and I freaked out about the vague message – especially considering the recent string of school shootings in America. My thoughts turned panicky. What? Is this really happening?  

The other students and I remained in the classroom, trying to stay calm in spite of the confusion. Our eyes never left Twitter, constantly stalking the site for updates about the lockdown situation. Even though our campus media tried to keep students informed as much as possible, many details remained vague and unconfirmed at this point. 

From what we gathered, the incident seemed to be drug- or gang-related. Although Syracuse University has a beautiful campus, parts of the surrounding area are notoriously unsafe. But what had happened? A drug deal deal gone wrong? A police chase? A brawl that turned violent? Countless rumors floated across my Twitter feed, and my anxiety heightened with every minute of not knowing the truth. 

Eventually, as we remained trapped in the classroom, the safety precautions on campus tightened. Students living in dorms that bordered the cemetery were advised to turn off their lights. A professor at my journalism school locked the members of my meeting in a windowless classroom, and he eventually moved us to the building's auditorium with nearly 100 other students. Faculty wanted everyone in the journalism building in the same place, just as an extra precaution. 

In the auditorium, students continuously perused Twitter for updates, refreshing the feed over and over again. A livestream of campus news played on the big projector screen. Why couldn't anybody confirm the facts? How dangerous was the situation? 

Finally, after being locked in my journalism school for two hours, the police department lifted the "shelter in place" warning at around 10:30 p.m. and allowed students to return home.

Only then did I really find out what happened. A drive-by shooting two miles off campus left one teenager dead and another injured. The police responded to the shots and began a car chase with two suspects, which resulted with the suspects running into the cemetery. The police lost track of the men and worried they might try to escape by cutting through Syracuse's campus. The shootings had nothing to do with Syracuse University or Syracuse students; however, the campus police issued the lockdown to ensure the safety of students and faculty. The police never caught the suspects, but law enforcement thoroughly surveyed campus before lifting the shelter and declaring the area safe for students. 

This incident showed me that a "bubble" surrounds my university. Although I'm knowledgeable of most campus-related events, I'm pretty clueless about what goes on in the greater Syracuse area. Apparently 20 homicides happened in the city this year, and I only knew about the one that came too close to the university for comfort. I think all college students should make an effort to understand the city in which they live – after all, it is your home for four years. 

Has anyone been in a similar situation? I'd love to hear about it.