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The Baltimore Sun

Harford Community College defends handling of potential threat

Harford Community College officials defended their decision Monday morning not to immediately alert the campus about what a police spokesperson called a "homicidal [or] suicidal" individual, explaining Tuesday that the unidentified student was quickly apprehended and no harm came to anyone.

Meanwhile, some students interviewed the morning after the incident said while there was confusion over what transpired, the campus was back to normal and people were talking about what happened.

Most also did not seem too worried that HCC might be the scene of a deadly attack like those at Virginia Tech and, just a week earlier, at Oikos University in California. They said they still feel safe on campus.

"We are very cognizant of our class schedule and had the situation not been resolved as rapidly, a different communication strategy may have been employed," HCC marketing and public relations director Nancy Dysard wrote in an e-mail in response to questions about how Monday's threat was handled.

No charges are expected to be filed against the student, who was allegedly making "dangerous threats" near the college library just after 10:30 a.m. and was taken into custody about 50 minutes later, according to the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

The male student had reported his "distress" to his own "medical personnel," who then contacted the Sheppard Pratt Mobile Crisis Team, who in turn called 9-1-1, according a sheriff's office news release.

Spokesperson Monica Worrell said deputies responded to the 9-1-1 call at 10:40 a.m. and had the suspect in custody 40 minutes later at 11:20.

The student did not have any weapons on his person or in his vehicle, Worrell said.

Worrell said Tuesday that the sheriff's office continues to take the position that the name of the student who allegedly made the threats will not be released to the public because no charges are expected to be filed against him.

The student was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air for an evaluation.

Questioned about his whereabouts Tuesday, Worrell said he was still being evaluated but did not know at what location.

College satisfied with response

"I am pleased at the response of the Harford County Sheriff's Office working in partnership with the college's public safety department, who brought this situation to a safe and rapid resolution," HCC President Dennis Golladay said in an e-mail from the college's public relations department. "Harford Community College is and remains a very safe place to learn and work."

The college's board of trustees held its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening; however, there was no comment about Monday's incident. The board immediately went into a closed session afterward to discuss personnel matters, so individual members were not available to be questioned.

Dysard, the college spokesperson, said earlier in the day that the college was notified of the ranting student by Harford County's Emergency Operations Center. The caller to 9-1-1 had said the suspect "wanted to cause harm," according to the sheriff's office news release about the incident.

"Harford County Sheriff's Office and HCC Public Safety worked in partnership to quickly and successfully resolve the situation in approximately 30 minutes," Dysard wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "Our focus was to address the situation at hand and contain any potential threat to the campus community."

Different protocols are in place for different situations, Dysard continued.

"Every situation is unique and the protocols reflect that," she said.

After the college's public safety office assessed the situation along with the sheriff's office, together they implemented their plan of action and resolved the matter swiftly, Dysard said.

Several students said the college used its mobile phone alert system to notify students about what had happened, but not until at least an hour after the person who allegedly made the threats was in custody.

Students talk about incident

Most students on campus Tuesday morning seemed unworried by the incident, but several said it was a topic of discussion.

Lauren Redmond didn't get a message about what happened until she got to the college Monday afternoon.

"It seemed like they were trying to not tell anyone," Redmond said. "They sent it after the fact, so it was almost as though they didn't want to alarm anyone who was here."

"I was more confused than anything else," she said, adding this is the first time anything like this happened since she came to HCC in 2010.

Redmond was nevertheless pretty nonchalant about the situation.

"I know that it happens," she said. "I don't think anyone was too worried about it... [The school] was pretty calm, for the most part."

Malissa Mello and Michael Nwachukwu were talking about the incident Tuesday morning while walking near the library, where Monday's threats were made.

"I was asking and nobody really knew anything," Nwachukwu said.

Inside the library, staff members declined to discuss the situation, referring all comments to Dysard.

"I got a phone call that someone was threatening to shoot at the library," Nwachukwu said about the situation Monday. "It kind of makes you feel unsafe, if someone could bring a gun to campus."

Mello agreed, saying she was wondering what Tuesday would be like if police had not apprehended the suspect.

"He could have still been running around," she said.

Neither Mello nor Nwachukwu, however, said they had second thoughts about coming to class or changing their behavior.

"Things like that happen every day," Mello said.

Hannah Jackson, another student walking near the library, said she was "a little worried... I heard there were a million police cars."

Last night "I thought about it a little bit, about coming to school," Jackson said.

But this morning, she said, "I didn't really think about it in the rush."

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