Student threat reported to campus cops, authorities

April 18, 2013 Latest Print Print
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On March 7, a student in a physics course made a threatening statement about shooting everyone in the class, according to a campus crime report received by the Pioneer on March 29.

Four students in the class contacted campus police at 4:10 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, to report that a student, Tyler J. Harris, 20, made the statements after becoming angry while in class the previous Thursday, March 7.

The Pioneer was able to reach one of the students who reported Harris’s threatening statements. She said she didn’t want to be identified and didn’t want to talk about the incident.

“He is a really nice guy and I don’t want to cause him any problems.”

Several attempts were made to contact Harris for a statement but the person answering the phone at the number Harris gave police said he was unavailable for comment.

OCCC Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said whenever a threat has been communicated on campus, the Campus Police immediately begin investigating the matter.

“We have to look at intent and the totality of the situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “We look at everything from all sides.”

One of the factors investigated is the potential for the threat to be enacted, he said. Fitzpatrick said it depends on the nature of the threat whether a student will face both criminal charges and breach of code of conduct rules or face only code of conduct repercussions.

Students who make threats on campus may breach the college’s code of conduct rules, he said, but not necessarily rise to the level of criminal prosecution.

Learning Support Specialist Mary Turner said students who make threats, even idle threats, are sure to face consequences. She said students must be sensitive with how they make jokes and how they express their frustrations, even if they are with a group of friends who understand their manner of expression. She said OCCC is a public space where people might overhear things being said and not know if the speaker is joking or serious.

Turner also is a member of the OCCC CARE — Campus Assessment Response and Evaluation — team. She said the team was put together in response to the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007. On that day, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the college, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before committing suicide.

The OCCC CARE team of five has received training to handle these types of situations and make decisions regarding all angles of the threat, Turner said.

“Our team comes together whenever there is a notification of concern on campus,” she said. Turner said when a student makes a threat, an investigation is initiated. The student can be suspended from campus for a few days up to even a few years depending on the outcome of the investigation. If investigators conclude the student poses no danger, the student will be allowed back onto campus.

Turner said for this reason students need to be careful about the way they express frustration in a classroom.

Any student who is feeling stressed — whether normal stresses or something serious — is urged to visit the Student Support Services Office located on the first floor of the Main Building in 1F8.

“Several of our staff … have counseling backgrounds and there are even licensed counselors on staff,” Turner said. “We are a fair and balanced team, and we are going to work to figure out what is going on and connect individuals to resources.”

Considering the severe consequences for words possibly spoken in frustration, Turner advised students to seek an outlet at Student Support Services, instead of blowing off steam in less acceptable ways.

Turner said students also need to be aware of how they are treating others. In almost every situation, a mean comment or teasing is all it takes to escalate a situation, she said.

“Our services in Student Support are confidential,” Turner said. She said an investigation has been initiated into this instance.

Turner said how campus officials respond to a threat depends on the specifics of the situation. But she said anyone who hears a threat should report it. “It depends on the nature of the comment,” she said.

“If it is a direct threat, it needs to be reported to the campus police whether it is a student or an employee. The campus police are the ones who have the authority to act on that.

“If it is not a direct threat, then speak with a faculty member or come to our office.”

In an email dated May 1, Student Life Director Erin Logan said an investigation has been concluded but declined to disclose the findings.

An employee in Records and Graduation confirmed Harris is still enrolled at OCCC. It’s not known if he is attending classes.

Physics professor Ivana Pavic also was listed on the crime report but failed to respond to inquiries about the incident.

To contact campus police, call 405-682-7872. For an emergency, use one of the call boxes located inside and outside on campus or call 405-682-1611, ext. 7747. To contact Student Support Services, call 405-682-7520.

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