published Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

University of Oklahoma president: Lockdown likely false alarm

People enter Gould Hall at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, after the area was re-opened. The area had been closed down following reports of gunfire.
People enter Gould Hall at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, after the area was re-opened. The area had been closed down following reports of gunfire.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NORMAN, Okla. — The University of Oklahoma locked down its campus Wednesday after a faculty member reported hearing gunshots but the school's president said it appeared the incident was a false alarm perhaps tied to construction equipment being used nearby.

"It seems most likely there were other sounds" that could have been misinterpreted as gunfire, university President David Boren said at a news conference. He said police found no casings and no one who appeared to be a "potential shooter." No injuries were reported.

University officials issued a notice late Wednesday morning that shots had been reported near the center of campus and that people should stay where they were and avoid Gould Hall, which houses OU's architecture school. Within an hour police issued an all-clear for most of the 30,000-student campus.

Throughout the afternoon, police conducted several floor-by-floor searches of Gould Hall, which by then was ringed with yellow-and-black police tape. Campus police officers, one armed with a rifle, stood guard at two entrances. The building also was given the all-clear by midafternoon.

Nearby, workers had been using a backhoe and a frontloader and it was possible some of the equipment backfired, confusing the instructor. Alerts were distributed within three minutes of the report, Boren said.

"It appears to have been a false alarm but all the right things were done and all the people involved did the right things," Boren said.

International business student Salima Harun said she followed a crowd running into the library when the alert went out and waited with others as library staff locked all the doors. She received an email from the university saying to stay inside and avoid Gould Hall.

"I'm honestly relieved the way they handled it. Our safety was a priority," said Harun, 20. "I really liked the way they handled it. It felt really safe."

Even after the all-clear, students scoured their phones seeking more information.

"I haven't been able to calm my class down," said Gary Barksdale, an adjunct math professor. "I'm going to have a blast trying to teach limits of functions when everybody is concerned about this."

Some students questioned why the university initially said shots were fired in their campus-wide alert when it was unconfirmed and why the building remained locked down hours after the false report came in.

"I think it's overkill," 19-year-old sophomore Alex Owens said, noting an armed officer who stood outside the building early Wednesday afternoon. "It just makes it seem like there is more going on."

In 2005, a University of Oklahoma student committed suicide near Gould Hall during a home football game by detonating an explosive device attached to his body. No one else was injured.

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