By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – It’s hard to imagine mass killings on the idyllic University of Mississippi campus, but most folks at institutions such as Northern Illinois, Oikos, Virginia Tech and others probably felt safe before their tragedies, too.
“Can there be an active shooter at Ole Miss? One time we weren’t even thinking about it,” University Police Officer Jesse Richards said at a class for students and staff last week to prevent and mitigate such a tragedy.
“We say, ‘This is a nice community; nothing like this would happen here; this is a safe campus,’” he said. “It may not happen – God forbid that it does – but it can happen.”
Richards said no clear profile exists for a mass shooter, but clearly bizarre behavior requires intervention.
“If you’re faculty and you see where the behavior of one of your students is changing … that needs to be brought to law enforcement’s attention, to Counseling’s attention,” he said. “If someone is leaning toward something of this nature, we can get them appropriate help.”
Before the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, patrol officers were taught to establish a perimeter and wait for SWAT intervention. Now, Richards said, all available officers would immediately swarm the scene to neutralize the shooter as quickly as possible, and campus would go into lockdown.
If a shooter were in one’s immediate area, Richards recommended: “Avoid, Deny, Defend.”
“Avoid the suspect and the suspected area of danger,” he said. “Deny the suspect access to yourself and others.” (Lock; barricade; keep out of sight and hearing.)
If an encounter with a shooter is inevitable, Richards said potential victims should counterattack with chairs, books and any other means to slow or stop the killer.
“Have that in your mind as a possibility,” he said. “Keep getting them until law enforcement takes you off of them.”
In the aftermath of a shooting, police will necessarily scrutinize every person they encounter – sometimes at gunpoint.
“When you come out, show your hands,” Richards said.
Students were noticeably scarce at the active-shooter seminars, despite a variety of time slots. One who did attend was Hugh Sloan IV, a mechanical engineering major from Oxford.
“I’m obviously concerned about threats and how to not do the wrong thing and how to do the right thing in these situations,” he said.
Sloan acquired a target pistol for his 21st birthday and said he might consider getting a concealed carry permit.
“Maybe,” he said. “Kind of half the reason I got the target pistol was to get really well-versed in basic operation before I do that.”
Ensley Howell of the National Food Service Management Institute said the possibility of an active shooter on campus “is not a big concern, but I wanted to be aware and have some practical things to think about.”
Pamela Smith of the University Box Office said the class was an eye-opener.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me was to be aware that this can happen in Oxford, Mississippi – what we think is our safe little town,” she said. “I’m taking home that I need to be very much aware of my surroundings, and a lot of us just don’t do that. I was very impressed.”
For more information, call University Police Department at (662) 915-7234.