December 9, 2016

Webster warns campus one hour after lockdowns

Although reports of gunfire spread throughout the city of Webster Groves Sept. 25 turned out to be only rumor, the Webster Groves school district went on a temporary lockdown as a precaution.

The Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) responded to a shots-fired call at 8:44 a.m. at the 200 block of East Jackson. A domestic dispute occurred inside an unknown residence between a resident and suspect David Turner, according to WGPD.

The Webster Groves school district went on lockdown at 9 a.m. The modified lockdown was lifted at 10 a.m.

Webster Groves school district’s Superintendent Sarah Booth Riss said a modified lockdown was necessary after the reports of gunfire. The modified lockdown keeps students and staff inside classrooms while there is a sweep through the schools to make sure all doors are locked and the school is secured.

Webster University sent out an incident advisory at 10:13 a.m., notifying students of the incident and encouraging vigilance.

Elysha Nemeth, a sophomore campus tour guide, said she found out about the reports of gunfire through a friend. She said she is signed up for Webster Alerts, a text alert system students are encouraged to sign up for that sends breaking alerts to phones and emails. Nemeth never received an alert from the university.

“I was signed up for Webster Alerts, but I didn’t get mine,” Nemeth said. “If I hadn’t heard about it, how would I have known about it?”

Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said the university had early contact with the Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) and had told the university the suspect had fled in the opposite direction of campus.

“The campus was never locked down because Webster Groves P.D., very early at about 9 a.m., made us aware that the suspect was seen running in the opposite direction of the campus,” Giblin said.

Giblin said since the suspect had run the opposite direction of campus, the situation was deemed a non-threat to the university. The police department’s press release on the incident states the suspect fled toward I-44, according to witness reports.

Senior Ina Griesomn said she heard about the incident a day after it occurred from a friend living in Alaska. She said she never heard or received any warning from Webster and her friend only found out about the reports from social media posts by local news stations.

The actual incident was a result of WGPD receiving a shots-fired call. In a statement, the department said social media may have caused panic.

“For clarification, the call was originally received as shots fired. In today’s social media and information technology environment, people have the ability to share information in real time. However, that information isn’t always accurate. The Webster Groves Police Department does not release information without vetting and confirming first. We strive to provide relevant and accurate information in a timely manner,” the Facebook comment made by the WGPD read.

Nemeth said she thought it was an interesting decision to continue giving prospective students tours of campus while there were reports of a shooting near campus.

The suspect, David Turner, was found and arrested later in the day and charged with domestic abuse and destruction of property.

Nemeth said Webster could have done a better job of spreading awareness about what was going on near the campus.

“I would say Webster is a pretty safe place, but if something can happen down the street from us, shouldn’t we know about it?” Nemeth said. “Word definitely could have been spread faster.”

Booth Riss said the school would not lock down for any and all reports of gunfire in Webster Groves, but only if the gunfire was in an area near a campus. She said the shooting on Friday was close enough to Webster Groves High School to immediately put the school into a modified lockdown.

Booth Riss said her son goes to Webster University. She said she did not feel the need to warn him about the incident. She said she did not feel he was in danger.

Giblin said from early in the events of the day, the university was aware of what was happening and was in constant contact with WGPD.

“We were told very early on there was no danger to the campus,” Giblin said.

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