Recent scare at U of M dorm has students, parents concerned about safety alerts
Tanya Thompson says she’s fearful for her daughter’s safety at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m petrified. I’m petrified of her safety,” the Fargo, North Dakota, resident said. “She sent me a text with a Snapchat photo of somebody telling them that there was a person with a gun in Middlebrook Hall.”
Tanya Thompson says she received that text at 10:54 p.m. on Thursday.
It’s a screenshot she later posted to a U of M parents group, describing a police search and fears of someone with a gun.
“We were just scared that there was a possible shooter,” declares Tanya Thompson’s daughter, Megan, a 19-year-old freshman who says she also saw a post on the Citizen app. “But we assumed nothing of it because we didn’t get a notification from the University of Minnesota.”
After yet another alert from a student Snapchat group, Megan Thompson, her friend Lexi Klenzman and two other freshmen sheltered in place in a dorm room, barricading the door and hiding under desks for about two hours.
“We just kind of dimmed out lights, we stopped talking, were quiet,” Klenzman recalls. “Put stuff in front of the door.”
Meanwhile, students say police were searching Middlebrook door to door, asking residents if they had heard gunshots.
A photo taken by a student and shared with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS shows more than a dozen police officers responding inside the building.
“The police were doing sweeps through everywhere,” Megan Thompson says. “And we didn’t get any sort of notification on what was going on.”
About an hour after that initial Snapchat message, the university tweeted, “UMPD is on a Check the Welfare call at Middlebrook Hall. There is no immediate threat at this time.”
An hour after that, this update: “This is an unfounded 911 call. At no time did we believe there was a threat to the public.”
A university spokesperson says notifications were also posted on Facebook and Instagram.
The students say they hope the university will come up with strategies to communicate faster.
“It would be good, especially for the kids staying in the dorm, to, like, have an understanding of what’s going on,” Klenzman notes. “Because it’s scary seeing a bunch of cops walking around a building and not knowing why.”
The university says there are specific criteria for when a Safe-U emergency notification goes out.
The school’s website says those alerts are “only sent for a crime that poses a serious or on-going threat to the campus community.”
The spokesperson says the university needs UMPD or another agency to confirm threats before they communicate them broadly so they don’t contribute to rumors or false information.
Just this week, the parent-led Campus Safety Coalition met with U of M administrators, police and other stakeholders to discuss safety strategies, especially alerts.
In a statement, a university spokesperson said the school meets with parents on a regular basis to discuss public safety and has had three forums in the past year.
The university says it’s invested a tremendous amount of time and energy to address safety concerns and is acting on feedback from many groups, including parents.
“I think it would be good for information to go out,” Klenzman says. “Even if it’s a welfare check or something, especially with what’s going on in the U.S. with all the shootings.”