Editor’s Note: this is a developing story.
Saturday, Oct. 22, the College of William and Mary initiated a campus-wide shelter in place after a social media threat was allegedly brought to the attention of WMPD, though details regarding the threat are still unclear.
“As you know, an anonymous threat to campus was made on social media today and the university initiated a lockdown,” the statement sent to the campus at 4:46PM read. “This action was taken out of an abundance of caution while William & Mary and Williamsburg Police attempted to locate a person of interest. Once police had the individual in custody, the lockdown was lifted. The safety of our campus community is a top priority, and we are grateful this incident was resolved safely and without injury.”
At 2:44PM, students, parents, and the greater Williamsburg community were alerted through an emergency notification system that there was an unknown issue on campus. The emergency alarm was also turned on and could be heard throughout the College.
“Anonymous threat to campus,” the first message read. “Seek shelter immediately inside a secure location. More info to follow.”
Panic began to spread through campus during this time, with on-campus locations, such as the Sadler Center and Earl Gregg Swem Library, entering a shelter in place.
Events Assistant Meriem Hcini ’23 was working in Sadler when the first alert was sent. As the first few messages said to “shelter in place,” Hcini said that they went through the procedure of getting individuals away from the windows, locking the outside doors and moving students into Commonwealth Auditorium.
“But also a shelter in place refers to bad weather,” Hcini said. “… the first thing I did when I saw the shelter in place words, I was like, ‘I need to look outside’ and like a lockdown is what it was, what it should have been called. And I’m upset they put that in the email now and not earlier because people were just sitting around Sadler and they…. no one took it seriously. And I don’t think it’s like on them. I think it’s on the fact that like this TribeAlert sent by the police was not explicit. It wasn’t accurate because it was called a shelter in place, like a shelter in place you can be anywhere in a building instead of being in a locked room where you’re in a lockdown and you’re like trying to maintain safety.”
Shreeya Ravi ’25 was in Lodge 1 when she first heard the alarm and said people started to panic when tour groups and individuals on the terrace rushed inside and the doors were locked. Ravi said everyone was confused with the situation, and some students returned to doing homework.
“And all of us were just sitting there kind of wondering what was happening,” Ravi said. “Just a lot of us went back to doing work, which is weird. I was just texting people and seeing how they were, checking in with my roommate and stuff like that. Trying to figure out what was going on. But most of us were just like silently panicking, I guess, or like trying to ignore it.”
Hcini said a lot of emotions were running through her as she was trying to move students and secure the building.
“The first thing that goes through my head is that it’s an active shooter, and they didn’t send out that it’s not an active shooter until like 15 minutes later,” Hcini said. “… I was shaking cause I was like, ‘is this an actual active shooter?’ Like, I was thinking, ‘oh, my gosh, like, this is it, I’m another statistic in the United States for active shootings.’ And I just couldn’t believe that it was happening. And that was all going through my head. And by the time we had corralled everyone and like us ourselves started to shelter in place, and we were all, like, shaken and confused with what’s going on, while like maintaining the fact that we have the most responsibility in the building, and there was no professional staff… like the responsibility to get people where they need to be. Then the text sent out that it’s not an active shooter. And it was like, ‘are you serious?’ Like, it was so many emotions basically.”
Hcini was appreciative to the professional staff who were on the phone with them at the time and walking them through what to do.
All emergency messages sent to students and others are as followed:
2:44PM – “Anonymous threat to campus. Seek shelter immediately inside a secure location. More info to follow.”
2:48PM – “This is not a test. Shelter in place.”
2:53PM – “WMPD received an anonymous threat via social media. This NOT an active shooter threat. WMPD and Williamsburg Police are on campus. Continue to shelter.”
2:56PM – “No reports of injury. Police securing campus. Text to let loved ones know you are OK.”
3:03PM – “Police continue to check campus. Continue to shelter. Updates will follow as police get more information. Next update may be a few minutes.”
3:18PM – “There is no longer a need to shelter in place, campus is all clear. Thank you for your cooperation.”
In the 4:46PM statement, signed by WMPD Chief Cheesebro and Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler, the email thanked the community for their cooperation.
“We thank our law enforcement partners, especially Williamsburg Police, as this was a joint response,” the statement read. “We also appreciate the cooperation of everyone on campus for sheltering in place and allowing police to do their work. Students are reminded that counselors are always available, even on weekends, by contacting the Counseling Center at 757-221-3620.”