Exactly four months prior to Saturday morning’s shooting, on April 27, 2016, the Williamsburg Police Department responded to a report of multiple shots fired at a Williamsburg residence on Page Street. The responding officers discovered several rounds had struck a residence at that location. Witnesses reported that shots were fired from a black SUV, which fled the area. In the four months following the incident there were no other shootings in Williamsburg.
For new students on campus, Saturday morning’s shooting outside The Crust happened during their second weekend at the College of William and Mary, at a time when they had little context of Williamsburg’s crime history. But, for returning students and Williamsburg residents, this shooting may be an anomaly. There have only been three similar incidents since February 2015.
According to Major Greg Riley of the Williamsburg Police Department, Saturday’s incident was not normal for Williamsburg. In fact, in his over 25 years at the station, he does not remember a similar incident occurring.
“Let me put it in this context for you,” Riley said. “We do not have a lot of this type of incident.”
Riley said that other cities, such as Richmond and Newport News, have much higher rates of violent gun crime, mostly because they are larger, more populous cities.
Riley added that in their work with the William and Mary Police Department, the Williamsburg Police Department takes the enforcement of gun laws very seriously.
Out of 61 recorded crimes involving a gun — which include charges of brandishing a firearm and of being a felon in possession of a firearm — 41 resulted in an arrest.
But, at a national level, violent gun crimes are not as unusual. Since the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007, mass school shootings have been at the forefront of the conversation on campus safety.
“Regardless of the situation, our primary concern is always the safety of the campus and its members,” William and Mary Police Chief Deb Cheesebro said in an email. “Several factors go into our assessment of an incident scene and we have to consider all of them almost simultaneously.”
Riley and other officers at the scene of the incident decided shortly after arrival that the incident was not an active shooter situation. According to Riley, the police officers are trained to listen for “active sounds” such as gunshots, and to move to contain any active threats. When they did not hear any active sounds, the officers determined that the shooting was isolated to outside The Crust and that the shooter had fled the scene. They then made the call that it was not an active shooting.
Following Williamsburg protocol, if police determine that there is no active shooter involved in an incident, they are not required to send an emergency release or contact residents through City government.
WMPD has separate reporting guidelines and, after consulting with the Williamsburg Police Department, made the call to not immediately notify students of an active shooter. An alert was sent approximately an hour later notifying students that a shooting had occurred and that the shooter had fled the scene.
“Part of the process was the determination, very quickly, was that there was no immediate threat to campus, no active shooter,” College spokesperson Suzanne Seurattan said.
Since active shooters on a college campus are a threat for which the Williamsburg Police Department wants to be prepared, each member of the force is required to go through active shooter training.
Additionally, they are encouraged to learn the layouts of all of the buildings they patrol.
As far as training goes, they regularly train in campus buildings, but are limited in where they can train since they do not want to cause panic. They have used the Dillard Complex for active shooter training before since it is miles off campus and is not currently used for anything other than the storage of College records. The building is scheduled to be demolished.
This means that the police do not have a chance to practice active shooter training on main parts of the College’s campus, but they are familiar with the buildings and the campus map.
However, Cheesebro said that her police department is trained to handle the threat of an active shooter. According to Cheesebro, all WMPD officers are asked to regularly talk through and rehearse active shooter scenarios. They also have to pass designated shooting courses with a minimum score.
In an email sent out to students, College President Taylor Reveley also highlighted that this shooting is rare for Williamsburg, but comes at a time when the national climate on gun violence is strained.
Over the summer, events such as the shooting at Orlando, Fla.’s Pulse Nightclub made headlines and led many, like United States Congressman John Lewis, to advocate for stricter gun control laws.
Nightclubs, like college campuses, have been the home to shootings this summer.
Besides the shooting in Orlando, nightclubs in Toronto, Canada, Fort Myers, Fla. and Virginia Beach, Va. have seen recent fatalities. But for the City of Williamsburg, shootings at establishments are not common. Since 2012, no firearms have been discharged anywhere other than at a personal dwelling in Williamsburg.
“An incident so rare in Williamsburg and so close to campus is, nonetheless, enormously disturbing,” Reveley said in an email. “Our Emergency Management Team has as an immediate priority to review how we responded to this incident. Safety is an absolute necessity.”