Monmouth Hawks: Is the University ‘Nest’ Safe? Reflecting on the Campus-Wide Lockdown Prompted by a Gun Incident

The University entered a campus-wide lockdown at 9:52 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1 after police received reports of a man with a gun. According to an e-mail sent by University President Paul R. Brown, Ph.D. the following day, the suspect approached two female students with a gun and demanded their cell phones; they fled and called the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD), prompting the lockdown.

The suspect was apprehended at 10:52 p.m. and the lockdown was lifted at 12:11 a.m. after the campus was thoroughly searched for evidence. Later, information revealed that the attempted robbery was committed by a freshman football player wielding a fake gun. The student, Keith Williams, was arrested and is being held in jail on $100,000 bail with no 10 percent option.

No Monmouth students were harmed in the incident. However, it has brought back to light the issue of school shootings and campus safety.

“Typically, I feel pretty safe on campus,” said one editor. “We hear a lot about other schools, but I never really thought something like this would happen here. It’s when something like this happens where you start questioning the safety on campus.”

Several Outlook editors were in the Outlook newsroom, located in the Jules L. Plangere Communications Center, when the lockdown commenced. They were then stuck there, unable to leave, until the lockdown was lifted just past midnight.

“Being pretty much barricaded in the Outlook office was frightening, to say the least,” said another editor. “You know, you always read stories of people calling their parents, such as in the massacre in the Orlando night club, or people calling loved ones on the flights during 9/11, and you never know how they feel. In no way am I comparing the magnitude of these tragedies to this incident, but I’m just saying there was this element of uncertainty that lingered. We had no idea what was going on, if we were safe, why we were still on lockdown, why no officers were patrolling our building and assuring us we’d be okay… it was just one of the eeriest moments of my life.”

However, most of the editors agreed that the situation was handled well, especially by MUPD.

“I think the alert system was great,” said one editor. “It was nice to be updated on what was going on through my phone, as that is the best way to alert me of anything.”

“I haven’t been on campus since the event, but I do believe the situation was handled with care and was handled well,” said another editor. “Sending out the alerts through calls, texts, email, and social media helped everyone stay in the loop.”

However, one editor noted that there was a potential lag time from when the incident initially happened to when the campus lockdown began. According to the University website the two students reported seeing a male wearing a hooded black sweatshirt and stocking mask, bearing a gun, at approximately 8:20 p.m. The students then fled the scene. The lockdown was not prompted until 9:52 p.m., well over an hour after the University reported the suspect fleeing “through the tunnel to the northside.”

The editor also pointed out that many students were on the academic side of campus during the lockdown, and although the incident took place on the residential side, “we still wished that there were cops around.”

The editor continued, “During the two hours that we waited, we didn’t see one cop car, or hear a single siren, and that was disconcerting. Cops should have been checking on students all over campus as a safety measure.”

William McElrath, Chief of the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD), explained the logic behind the decision to call a lockdown. “A shelter in place normally refers to asking the campus community to remain inside while a possibly dangerous event is taking place,” he said. “A lockdown is similar in that you are requesting people to remain indoors until an all-clear is given. Both refer to a variety of threats to an area.”

McElrath continued, “Subsequent messages were sent out as a lockdown as the campus was also closed to incoming traffic until the situation was rendered safe. The initial email was sent out as a man with a gun. Once the incident was confirmed, a decision was made to request the campus community remain indoors, and not allow access to the north campus until the situation was resolved.”

Monmouth University’s Counseling and Psychological Services are always free and available to students; an email was sent out on Wednesday morning reminding students that there was always the option to talk to someone in that office.

However, most editors agreed that while their perception of campus safety might have changed, they weren’t really afraid to return to Monmouth’s campus. Many commented that they had always felt safe on Monmouth’s campus. The campus has often been ranked highly for campus safety according to Niche.com, which studies and ranks universities nationwide.

One editor said, “I would like to take this as a wakeup call if not for myself then possibly for others as well. We look at the news and social media and see these types of things happening on other campuses or even at elementary schools and think, ‘Wow what a shame, but I am glad that I wasn’t there!’ We often don’t believe it will ever happen to us or someone we know.”

The editor continued, “[Students] should be considered lucky that nothing extensively dangerous happened, but this isn’t something we can just skip past easily without any other second thought. This is a reminder to always be safe, mindful, and alert of your surroundings, and to not take anything for granted.”