Two people died and four students were hurt in a shooting in an academic building on the UNC Charlotte campus on Tuesday afternoon, police said.
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What was supposed to be the university’s last day of classes turned into a horrific tragedy as the UNCC campus went on lock-down for nearly 12 hours. A suspect, Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, was arrested, although police said his motives were unclear.
Three of the four injured students are in critical condition, and police had not named the victims as of 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday. UNCC student Drew Pescaro was among the injured but had since been released from the hospital.
Jeff Baker, chief of the UNCC Police and Public Safety Department, said campus police officers quickly entered the building where shots were reported at about 5:42 p.m., then taking a suspect into custody.
“He never had time to get out of the room,” Baker said at a news conference late Tuesday.
CMPD later confirmed that the shooting took place inside Kennedy Hall, toward the east end of the campus in north Charlotte. Anthropology instructor Adam Patrick Johnson said it occurred during his class, LBST 2213: Science, Technology & Society.
“My students are so special to me and I am devastated,” he said on Twitter, adding students were conducting team presentations as part of the lesson.
Right before 7 a.m. Wednesday, the area around Kennedy Hall was taped off, with nine police vehicles parked nearby and at least four officers on scene.
Baker, the UNC Charlotte police chief, said he didn’t know how many students were in the area where the gunfire erupted. He declined to say if the suspect targeted certain students or fired at random.
And he disputed rumors that the suspect had entered a library on campus. Multiple eyewitnesses said they had initially heard about a shooting in the J. Murrey Atkins Library, which is adjacent to Kennedy Hall.
At approximately 5:42 p.m., a call to police reported a suspect “armed with a pistol” who had shot several students, Baker said. The alleged shooter was “not somebody on our radar,” he said.
Baker said he didn’t know how many students were in the area where the gunfire erupted. He noted that the campus police responded quickly.
“We train to go to the sound,” he said. “When we heard this call go out, everyone converged immediately.”
Baker said he entered the building right after the first two or three campus officers did. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers also quickly responded to assist campus police, he said.
After shots rang out, campus officials sent an alert urging those on campus to “Run, Hide, Fight. Secure yourself immediately.”
“ACTIVE ASSAILANT,” warned the university’s website.
Campus police said they were meeting to prepare for a Waka Flocka Flame concert to be held on campus Tuesday night when they learned of the shooting. The university first tweeted about the incident just before 6 p.m.
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois called Tuesday “the worst day in the history of UNC Charlotte.”
“This shakes us to our very core,” he said.
According to video taken on campus and eyewitness accounts, students and staff on campus were escorted out to safety with their hands in the air, as law enforcement went through campus room by room. At about 7:30 p.m., Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said that the “scene was secure” and that they had one person in custody.
An email to students sent at about 10 p.m. told them police needed to first clear every building before the lock-down could be lifted. “Remain where you are be prepared to identify yourself to police, raise your hands and follow officer commands,” the email said.
UNCC students still on campus were told to return to dorms, the student center, or leave entirely. The lock-down lasted until around 6 a.m.
UNCC announced it would be suspending its operations through midnight Thursday, according to updates posted on its website.
“Non-mandatory” employees ordered not to report for work on Wednesday, while an on-campus vigil for students was planned for 6 p.m. Final exams, which were scheduled for all this week, have been canceled through Sunday, the university wrote in an email to students on Tuesday evening.
In a statement to the campus, Dubois called for unity.
“The days ahead will be some of the most challenging we have ever encountered,” Dubois said. “All I can say for certain is that we will get through them together.”
Barricaded, terrified students
Amid the frenzy and fear, students on campus said they tried to communicate to loved ones that they were safe.
UNCC librarian Laura McShane was working at her desk in nearby Atkins Library when she “heard a ruckus” loud enough to sound through her headphones as she listened to the “Game of Thrones” soundtrack.
“Students were running down the hall right behind my office,” McShane told the Observer by phone from campus. “I was about to go out and shoosh them (to be quiet). I had no idea something like that was happening. Almost immediately a student said there was a shooter on campus.
“I said get in,” McShane told the students, as she ushered seven into her office. “It happened so fast, I nearly closed the door on one student. I took a big table and barricaded the door, and we got back in the back corner. I said if anyone is out there, they would not find us here.”
McShane said she told the students ”to stay calm. I offered them snacks, and I had a water bottle I gave to one student. We were quiet as mice.” She thought at first that a shooter was in the library. “The first three to five minutes were the most terrifying of my life.”
Kelley Whall, 33, an associate director in UNCC’s research and development department, said her colleagues watched as stretchers arrived on campus, she said, and a couple of people remained locked down in the office.
Her 19-year-old brother, a psych student, hid in a bathroom in Levine Hall, a dorm, as he waited for a choir concert. He is safe.
Devin Searcy, 19, said he was attending a baseball game when he got a text from his mother, Helen Searcy, a student and employee on campus.
She messaged him from inside a closet at Belk Gym — about a quarter mile from Kennedy Hall — where she was hiding with several other people. “Stay put,” she texted. “Don’t come here.”
Searcy was evacuated with others from the baseball game. “I just can’t believe what’s going on,” he said.
As soon as he heard the news, Baljit Singh, 31, said he drove up from South End to meet family members who were on campus: his brother and two cousins, one of whom was locked in the library hiding under a desk.
“It’s a crappy world that we live in,” Singh told the Observer.
And Daniel Cardoso, 25, a grad student in information technology, called the afternoon “surreal.”
When he typically gets text alerts, he assumes that’s something going on nearby, rather than on campus. He had a class scheduled for the next day in Kennedy Hall.
Johnson’s class is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoons from 5:45 to 6:30 pm, on the ground floor of Kennedy Hall in Room 236, according to the UNCC course catalog.
Trinity Scurlark, a 19-year-old UNCC freshman computer science major who has two different classes there, said that 100-seat classroom is the largest in the building.
As news of the shooting spread, politicians from across the country chimed in. Sen. Thom Tillis said on Twitter, “Absolutely horrific news at #UNCC Susan and I are grateful for the first responders at the scene and our thoughts are with the @unccharlotte community.”
Said Rep. Richard Hudson on Twitter: “Renee & I are heartbroken to see violence at my alma mater @unccharlotte. Grateful for the quick action of 1st responders & police..”
Fred Clasen Kelly and (Raleigh) News & Observer Staff Writer Martha Quillin contributed.