Update: ‘Threat of gun violence’ leads to lockdown (now over) at South Seattle Community College

January 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm | In Puget Ridge, West Seattle news | 27 Comments

4:19 PM: Just got some information about a situation that led to a campus-wide alert at South Seattle Community College (WSB sponsor). According to Seattle Police spokesperson Det. Jeff Kappel, police were investigating “a threat” – he wouldn’t get any more specific than that. No injuries, no arrest reported. Our tip came from a reader whose spouse reported a lockdown situation for a while at the school; we have been unable to reach anyone at SSCC for comment, but the reader says the “all-clear” was just given.

4:53 PM UPDATE: Added a photo of the two police cars that were outside the school when we went by. No further details on the threat, though a spokesperson at the community-college system’s central communications office says there’ll be a followup message for the campus tomorrow.

5:02 PM UPDATE: Just got a call back from vice president of student services Rosie Rimando, who says that this started with a report from a student, who said another student had made a “threat of gun violence on campus.” Rimando says, “Within minutes it was reported to security, and while SPD began an investigation, we went into shelter-in-place, basically a lockdown, across campus.” She says that was a preliminary precautionary measure until they “confirmed that the student in question [who allegedly made the threat] was not on campus and not in the area at all.” That student, she says, has since been contacted and is “suspended from campus” while the investigation continues. A schoolwide team is also taking this, she says, as “an opportunity to brush up on our emergency-response plan,” but “we don’t feel like there is any danger” to the campus or surrounding community.

ADDED FRIDAY AFTERNOON, 1:30 PM: Associate vice president for college relations and advancement Elizabeth Pluhta e-mailed us the official statement on what transpired yesterday, including a note about a past incident brought up in the comment section:

Late Thursday afternoon a student reported a threat of gun violence on campus by another student. Campus Security and Seattle Police were immediately called, and Seattle Police began investigating on campus. The college also instituted “shelter in place” precautions, which included locking buildings and rooms, and notifying staff and students. Once Seattle Police confirmed that no threat was present on campus, the “all clear” was given. The student making the threat has been contacted and is suspended from campus pending a conduct investigation.

Using the phrase “lock down” in our message may have been stronger than necessary, but our first reaction was to be protective until more was known about the situation. And, had there been an active threat, there are other emergency communication tools that would have been used.

The college regularly conducts emergency preparedness training sessions and emergency drills. We will review our response to this situation in order to continue improving our safety and security on campus.

Regarding the pistol found in the backpack on campus in December, that student faced disciplinary action through the normal student conduct process. Student privacy laws prevent us from discussing the specific result.

We subsequently asked her about the alert that was sent out, since some said they didn’t receive it, but our original tip came from someone who said their spouse had seen “e-mail” about the lockdown:

In this situation we used a computer “pop-up” system that sends a message to all computer screens on campus, over-riding anything on the screen at that time. If there had been active danger, we would have added a voice message through our outdoor speaker system, and we also have a warning system that can send a voice message to all campus telephones, using the speakerphone feature. In addition, all college staff and students are encouraged to sign up for Campus Alerts, where we send a text or e-mail message to the phone or computer the subscriber lists. The Campus Alert sign-up is available on our website.

27 Comments

  1. any reason that nearby residents should be concerned that this ‘threat’ is running around the neighborhood?

    Comment by sam-c — 4:34 pm January 3, 2013 #

  2. I don’t know that a threat is “running around” – but we’ll add whatever more we can find out.

    Comment by WSB — 4:36 pm January 3, 2013 #

  3. I was on campus, and they wouldn’t let me in the door for my orientation. they said I had to stay outside. I said “to die ” and multiple people just shrugged their shoulders

    Comment by jas — 4:40 pm January 3, 2013 #

  4. To jas: Can you please tell us more about what happened when you tried to get into your orientation? Who were the multiple people who shrugged their shoulders? (Faculty, staff, students, Campus Security?)
    Did you receive a text alert about the lockdown? How did you hear what was happening?

    Comment by lgh — 5:09 pm January 3, 2013 #

  5. Jas’ comments are concerning. Many students bus there and can’t get into a car to escape danger. I would like SSCC to address this immediately!

    Comment by WSLisa — 5:29 pm January 3, 2013 #

  6. Wow that’s crazy, I go there FT and I left at 1:30 crazy hope everyone is okay…… We need to make a plan in what to do if this ever happens aging some kind of plan… lock down everyone stay safe till every thing is clean , to be able to call there love ones from the class room , something…… Crazy World

    Comment by LM — 5:44 pm January 3, 2013 #

  7. I was there when the Lock-Down went on. I was in the administration/registration building. The lock-down took all of about 5 minutes. They mentioned there was a “threat,” of violence, and that the Seattle Police were there at the school checking it out. About 5 minutes later it was told by Rosie that the “threat” was not on campus anymore, and that we were cleared to leave. It was pretty quick. Might have been under 5 minutes.
    What was weird was that there were no police cars there when I walked in 10 minutes before and when I walked out 10 minutes alter there were police cars everywhere. I guess its good there is a police station so close by!

    Comment by Frank — 5:49 pm January 3, 2013 #

  8. My daughter goes there and I think every student should be notified by email or announcement on how to handle a lockdown in the future. This clearly can happen anywhere, and I’m not happy with the story Jas is trying to tell us.
    Jas,if you read these posts,please give us more detail.

    Comment by Alki Resident — 7:24 pm January 3, 2013 #

  9. I am a student and staff member on campus. My boss came in to were I work and told us what was happening and to lock down. He made sure that everyone was safe.

    Comment by West Seattle Student — 7:42 pm January 3, 2013 #

  10. A while back,you wrote that security found a loaded handgun with a bunch of ammo in a backpack in the library at SSCC. Whatever happened with that? Is there a follow up to that?

    Comment by Eric — 5:46 am January 4, 2013 #

  11. I can say from long experience that security is extremely lax at SSCC, and the problem originates with administration. There are many students there with criminal backgrounds, and others engaged in criminal activity – including, but not limited to drug use – on campus. Vandalism is rampant, and quite a few neighbors have complained about the spillover of criminal activity originating from SSCC. The only surprise is that something really, really bad hasn’t happened – yet.

    Comment by anonyme — 7:14 am January 4, 2013 #

  12. Eric – You have a good memory. Searching the archives brought that up from one of Megan Sheppard’s “WS Beat” reports, a month ago:
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2012/12/the-wsbeat-dog-visited-phone-scam-restroom-scare-threats-photos
    .
    No further information – if I can find an incident number, I’ll ask, but there may not be one available online.

    Comment by WSB — 7:44 am January 4, 2013 #

  13. Alki Resident, don’t they have mobile phone notification? That’s what my campus does. In my experience, more students check their phones than their email.

    Comment by datamuse — 10:46 am January 4, 2013 #

  14. The following website describes the Seattle Community College District emergency alert system that is capable of alerting students and staff via text message and email.

    https://alert.seattlecolleges.edu/LogIn.aspx

    Students and staff have to make a request to be notified of emergencies and sign up for the service. That is, they have to opt in.

    In my experience, few students do that. And even if students have signed up, I’ve learned that the emergency alert system for texts and emails was not activated in response to this event at South Seattle Community College yesterday.

    It was also not activated when the Cafe Racer shooter, who’d just murdered 5 people in Seattle, was known to be armed and in the vicinity of the campus last May 30.

    Comment by lh — 11:51 am January 4, 2013 #

  15. I’m a student at SSCC and am signed up for notifications and did not receive one. I haven’t felt safe on campus in the four years I’ve attended there. I have nothing but positive things to say about the teachers there and most of faculty, but there is a decent amount of suspicious activity on a daily basis.

    Comment by Beach Creep — 11:52 am January 4, 2013 #

  16. LH – the person who first tipped us to the lockdown yesterday afternoon while it was happening said the information came from their spouse, who in turn got it via e-mail alert. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 12:04 pm January 4, 2013 #

  17. I didnt receive an email about this until five minutes ago and I am a current student at south.

    Comment by sscc student — 12:17 pm January 4, 2013 #

  18. I just got my email about what had happen yesterday at school , I asked one of my teachers about it, she did not know about it, she too left early that day as I did , I found out throw the West Seattle blog. I asked her to go on that website, it is always current in what is happen in the area.
    Perhaps maybe and idea, is there anyone at the WSB that can send out an alert, in that area were there is a danger to everyone that it connected to you? and put down check in the WSB for more info as WSB get it?

    Comment by LM — 1:15 pm January 4, 2013 #

  19. Not everyone who works at SSCC sits at a computer all day long, and most students don’t either. The Arboretum is a hotbed for criminal activity and meetups. I know the gardeners who worked out there had serious safety concerns that were completely dismissed by Admin. I agree with Beach Creep; the teachers seem dedicated, but the Admin is messed up. It is not a safe place.

    Comment by anonyme — 1:23 pm January 4, 2013 #

  20. The administration has sent us their statement on what happened yesterday, though it’s basically what we already reported. I did also ask for a response to the messaging issue and this is what associate vice president Elizabeth Pluhta wrote back: “In this situation we used a computer “pop-up” system that sends a message to all computer screens on campus, over-riding anything on the screen at that time. If there had been active danger, we would have added a voice message through our outdoor speaker system, and we also have a warning system that can send a voice message to all campus telephones, using the speakerphone feature. In addition, all college staff and students are encouraged to sign up for Campus Alerts, where we send a text or email message to the phone or computer the subscriber lists. The Campus Alert sign-up is available on our website.”
    .
    I am adding to the story.

    Comment by WSB — 1:25 pm January 4, 2013 #

  21. It seems bizarre that the admin team says that “we went into shelter-in-place, basically a lockdown” (from above post), but there wasn’t enough danger for an audio message. Doesn’t one of these actions (shelter-in-place) require more work than the other (a simple audio message)? And doesn’t a _proper_ shelter-in-place require effective communication, not just messages to computers?

    Comment by Thomas O. — 1:44 pm January 4, 2013 #

  22. The incident lasted almost 30 minutes, at least that is how long the emergency pop-up on campus screens lasted, not 5 minutes like someone said. The popup said there was a lockdown on campus and that there was police activity. Students should have been given shelter in the library (or whever) and not tossed out, which happened to some. For one thing, if there was police activity in the area, wouldn’t throwing students into the middle of it be dangerous for them and an impediment for the police? I’m signed up for campus alerts but I never got one while I’ve gotten others.

    Comment by anonymous — 4:12 pm January 4, 2013 #

  23. So, Vice President Elizabeth Pluhta, exactly what constitutes an “active threat” that would have inspired South’s administrators to activate the Emergency Alert system?

    If yesterday’s emergency was serious enough to require a full lockdown of the campus, didn’t it merit the seconds it would have taken to send text messages to students and send speakerphone and loudspeaker messages to classrooms and outdoor spaces?

    Let’s see: it was serious enough for SPD to investigate what is still an open case. It was serious enough for Security Manager James Lewis to make a frantic effort to lock down every room and building on a sprawling campus.

    The only people on campus who received the emergency pop up alert were seated in front of campus-owned computers around 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon. The rest of the campus was left in the dark, and some felt they were left “to die” as one reader commented above.

    How can you possibly justify locking students out of their classrooms and buildings while police were investigating this? And all without explanation.

    The popup gave no information. Just “Lockdown.” The whole point of emergency notification is to give people enough information to make an informed decision about what they will choose to do, given the specifics of their situation.

    Actually, I think we all know why the college issued this half-hearted, half-assed alert: It’s all about trying to keep a spit and polish shine on the college’s precious reputation.

    Please read all of the comments here, and judge for yourself. Do you honestly think the college’s reputation for safety and security is anything you can protect or even resurrect?

    The word is out, and it’s time we hear from the College President about this. What part did Gary Oertli play in the regrettable response to this campus emergency yesterday? Does he have the courage to speak for himself?

    Comment by anonymous2 — 5:18 pm January 4, 2013 #

  24. Years ago they told employees to “lock your office door” but ignored the fact that only the “Important People” have offices. Where are the lowly staff supposed to hide? Behind a clipboard? There’s been no training at all except for a youtube link to watch on worker’s own time but never followed up on. Yes, a librarian was kicking out people from the library. Has anyone spoken to her yet? How could she be that clueless? This is SSCC’s 3rd “incident” in the last year (that we know about), and Administration hasn’t changed a single thing or formed a single policy in response to the increasing threats. That does not inspire confidence – just the opposite. Yesterday there wasn’t a single email or announcement about the lockdown from the night before from the President or anyone in administration. We learn everything from the West Seattle Blog. We are sitting ducks here with no training, no policy, and only 2 or 3 decent security guards and we are all just one psycho’s whim away from another national tragedy. WAKE UP, SSCC Administration!

    Comment by anonymous — 9:06 am January 5, 2013 #

  25. Does SSCC do lockdown drills? It seems like the people there don’t know what to do when one happens. At my U we have 1-2 drills a year.

    Comment by datamuse — 10:26 am January 5, 2013 #

  26. I am so thankful that everyone is safe! Hopefully the college administration will learn from this, and provide more training to all staff, as well as have the campus community participate in lockdown drills. I believe it’s not enough to just talk about safety measures. Regular drills are important, too, so that people have practiced and know what to do in what is sure to be a very stressful emergency situation with lots of ambiguity. i think a lockdown drill should be held at least once a year. Sadly, these days it seems like there is a threat of violence everywhere – K-12 schools, colleges, theaters, shopping malls, you name it! Let’s remember that gun violence can happen in the most unexpected places, where one would never imagine it could happen. It behooves us all to think about what we would do if we are ever unlucky enough to find ourselves in such a scenario, and rehearse what we would do.

    Comment by anonymous3 — 9:40 pm January 5, 2013 #

  27. The horticulture complex at the north end of campus is completely isolated. That complex, as well as the Arboretum, are shunned by security despite numerous, serious threats. One employee who called in gunshots from the Arboretum area was visited by Admin & the top security officer and called a liar, saying that the police had no other calls about the incident. An independent follow up revealed that there had in fact been multiple reports of gunshots. They apparently were really ticked off about having to initiate lockdown procedures and would much prefer to shoot the messenger instead. That pretty much sums up SSCC Admin in a nutshell.

    The only drill I ever witnessed at SSCC involved herding everyone outside – sitting ducks, as someone pointed out.

    I suspect that SSCC may not be reporting incidents of crime accurately as required by law, perhaps due to their contract with DOC.

    Comment by anonyme — 5:57 am January 6, 2013 #

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