Campus locked down during search for gunman

February 26, 2008 4:45:34 PM PST
Classes were canceled and a small private college went on lockdown Tuesday as police searched for a man who was seen with a gun on campus, officials said. Ferrum College President Jennifer Braaten activated an alert system and ordered the school locked down after a member of the housekeeping staff reported seeing a young man walk into a residence hall with a handgun, Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt said at a news conference.

"Basically, he told the housekeeper not to say anything about it and he continued on," Hunt said.

There have been no reports of threats and no one on campus had been harmed, Hunt said at an afternoon news conference. Several men resembling the description of the man with the weapon were questioned but were not held, authorities said.

"No one has been hurt; no one is in a panic mode," Braaten said.

All campus buildings had been searched by Tuesday evening and police said they still had no idea who the man with the gun is or whether he is a student.

Students were taken to the gymnasium during the day for security reasons, but were escorted back to their rooms Tuesday evening. The school remained on lockdown.

More than 800 of the school's 1,000 students live on campus. Braaten said students would not be penalized if they left early for spring break, which begins Friday.

There were at least two other campus security scares Tuesday:

--In Fargo, N.D., classes were canceled in a downtown building used by North Dakota State University after a man with a gun was reported there. Fargo and university police said a 28-year-old suspect was later arrested a few blocks away on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Minnesota officials said the man had recently been released from prison, where he served time for robbery and burglary.

Classes were not halted at the NDSU main campus, a couple of miles from downtown, but students were alerted about the problem by a campus-wide message system. The downtown building hosts art and architecture classes.

--In Decatur, Miss., a student was found shot to death in his dormitory room at East Central Community College, an apparent suicide, officials said. The shooting led to a brief lockdown before authorities determined there was not a security concern. "This is a very unfortunate incident and the college expresses its sympathies to the family," ECCC president Phil A. Sutphin said in a statement. The student's name was not released.

In Virginia, state police sent troopers to the rural Ferrum College campus, as well as officers from surrounding counties. The school, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is less than 50 miles from Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, where a student gunman killed 32 people and committed suicide last April.

"Ever since Virginia Tech, we can't be careful enough," school spokeswoman Natalie Faunce said. "That's where we are."

The lockdowns come less than two weeks after a gunman shot five students and then himself at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Classes at the school resumed Monday.

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