RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH student Chari Cortez looks at her Smartphone, which receives her e-mail, after being told of campus security's e-mail about a campus threat.
Death threat hits UH
A man who was reportedly overheard threatening to kill 30 University of Hawaii-Manoa students led to a campus alert yesterday that shows the school is vigilant but lacking in some notification measures, a UH spokesman says.
The school is still working on retrofitting all its buildings with public address systems, and a text-messaging alert system still needs to be tested on a large scale before being implemented, said UH spokesman Gregg Takayama.
After the April 16 shootings in which 32 were fatally shot at Virginia Tech by a student, UH officials discovered a few of its buildings did not have public address systems, and decided to find a way to immediately alert all on campus of an imminent threat.
After a UH student reported to campus security yesterday that she heard a man on the bus talking to himself saying he is going to shoot 30 students, the school sent out an e-mail notifying 20,000 students and 7,000 staff and faculty of the incident and the suspect's description. Classes and activities were not canceled.
Some were shocked to learn of the incident because they had not accessed their e-mail until two hours after the 1:40 p.m. alert.
"Oh my God," said law student Dirgha Pathak, 29, of Nepal. "We need to do more security. ... I thought this place is very safe."
"I just got out of class," said Chari Cortez, 22, who pulled out her Smartphone and read the e-mail. "Oh no! He's planning to shoot 30 students on campus? Oh my goodness. Not too many people actually check their e-mail."
Several on campus who read the e-mail were not overly concerned, just more cautious and alert. They agreed the response was appropriate and that the incident did not seem to merit any further action.
Takayama said the school needs to get everyone's cell phone number with their approval to receive emergency text messages (because they would be charged for them).
"It's not clear that (cell phone carriers) have the ability to send out 10,000 or 15,000 text messages at the same instance," Takayama said. A test is being developed for later this year.
Police said the suspect got off the bus at King and Isenberg streets sometime before 11:30 a.m. The student reported it to campus security at about 11:45 a.m. and police at 12:15 p.m., police said. After a search of Moiliili, McCully and the UH campus, police did not find the suspect.
Campus security patrolling Dole Street spotted at 2:30 p.m. a man thought to match the suspect's description riding a bicycle heading toward the UH Lab School at about the time the elementary school was being let out. Security officers tried to stop him for questioning, but he got away. Officers went to the Lab School to ensure the students' safety as they left that campus.
Takayama said campus security was informed by police that someone matching the suspect's description was known to them as a homeless person with mental issues who has been known to make similar threats.
Security continued to take the threat seriously but advised not to cancel classes or activities and simply exercise caution, he said.
"You always got to walk a fine line between acting appropriately and overreacting," Takayama said.
If there had been an imminent crisis or disaster where evacuation or immediate notification appeared appropriate, the school would have used its PA systems and campus security car loudspeakers, Takayama said.
Not all Freeman Guards, some of whom are posted at guard shacks, were officially informed of the threat. Takayama said the UH campus security director had directed the Freeman Guard supervisor to do so.