It was 4:23 p.m..
I sat in Chago’s, shaking violently, while most of my sorority huddled together in pitch black less than a block away. Someone texted me to ask if I knew what was going on. Others thought there was a tornado. And some began to digest the frighteningly familiar lockdown protocol and sent panicked ‘I love you’ texts to friends and families. Just in case.
On Sunday, students in the Gabhart Student Center were put in lockdown by a Campus Security officer. The students huddled at the back of Gabhart A&B — as far away from doors and windows as possible — turned off the lights and kept silent. Considering Sunday morning’s events at the Waffle House just 20 minutes away — and the fact that the suspect, Travis Reinking, was still at large, and supposedly armed — the warning was petrifying.
At 4:32 p.m., I frantically called Campus Security for an explanation or an assurance that my friends and I were safe.
The dispatcher refused to give me any information.
I know that I am not the only student who called Belmont police with questions on Sunday. So why were they unwilling to communicate with us for so long?
On a campus with over 8,000 students, information moves fast, and false information even faster. So as minutes passed with no word from Belmont on what was actually happening, the rumor mill exploded.
The worst rumor — the one at the back of most of our minds — was that Reinking had come to Belmont.
Nobody knew if we were safe, and nobody knew what to do. So we all just waited, literally fearing for our lives, for an all clear that didn’t come for over 20 minutes.
In September, Chief of Campus Security Pat Cunningham told the Vision that the first question asked when considering sending an alert is whether or not there’s an immediate threat to campus.
But if an officer thought there was enough of an imminent threat to put us in lockdown on Sunday, this argument fails.
Unfortunately, this lack of timely communication has been a pattern throughout the year.
On Aug. 31, the National Weather Service released a tornado warning for Davidson County at 5:57 p.m.. Campus Security sent out its text alert a good 10 minutes later.
Tornadoes have ripped through entire towns in less time.
Even worse, on Sept. 12, shots were fired from a car on 15th Avenue around 8:30 p.m., hitting a car that was carrying Belmont students. But staggeringly, we heard nothing from campus security until close to 9:30 p.m..
While thankfully no one was hurt, gunshots fired feet from campus seems like a blindingly obvious immediate threat — bullets literally hitting a car carrying Belmont students. But the Belmont community had to wait for a full hour before finding out any information — a situation that was mirrored on Sunday.
After the September incident, the Vision spoke to student Shannon Ogden, who was sitting in class in the Janet Ayers Academic Center when she heard the gunshots.
“Our professor turned the lights off and we all got still because they were very obviously gunshots, and they were obviously very close,” Ogden said. “Our professor kept asking, ‘Is anyone getting a Belmont alert, is anyone getting any updates?’”
If incidents like this one do not qualify as immediate threats, it is confusing and questionable why Campus Security has informed students about far smaller dangers.
In February, we were alerted by email of the possibility of a “suspicious individual” between Acklen and 12th avenues. Is a suspicious person more worthy of an alert than actual gunshots being fired on campus? Campus Security would have us believe so.
In December, we received what was labeled a “timely warning” that cars had been broken into in Hillside.
These incidents are worth informing students about, and I commend Campus Security for doing so. But if they think it’s important to remind us to lock our cars, it should be vitally important for them to immediately alert horrified students why there was a lockdown and to ultimately reassure students there wasn’t actually a man with a gun on campus.
I understand the importance of waiting until information can be verified or until all the pieces have been put together. But refusing to give answers to terrified students creates infinitely more chaos and fear.
On Sunday, in such a tense moment, Campus Security could have sent out something as simple as “Here’s what we know…we’re looking into it, please stay where you are.”
We know it can be done. The text we received at 4:51 p.m. was that simple.
So why didn’t we get it 20 minutes earlier?
In processing all of this, I keep remembering the promise Belmont President Dr. Robert Fisher makes to new parents each year during orientation. More than anything, he promises to keep their students safe.
And quite simply, Belmont students cannot be safe if they are not fully informed.