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'I don't think he was taking it seriously': Student brandishes water gun, SFU defends response
Published Wednesday, October 9, 2019 12:57PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, October 9, 2019 7:03PM PDT
Simon Fraser University is defending its response to a recent gun scare on campus, which left some students frustrated by the lack of information coming from administrators.
Reports of a man carrying around a firearm and wearing RCMP-branded clothing prompted a massive police response on Burnaby Mountain Tuesday afternoon, and forced the evacuation of two university residences. Officers eventually tracked down a suspect who allegedly had a replica gun in his possession.
“We all thought it was kind of weird,” said classmate Nadine Schick, who’d been sitting next to the young man in a library classroom as he played around with a black squirt gun without the distinctive neon cap at the muzzle that usually indicates a toy weapon.
“Everyone in our class knew it was a water gun but the problem is he went outside where people didn't know it was a water gun and he was waving it around and messing around, so I think he kind of spooked some people," said Shick. “I don’t think he was taking it seriously.”
While the incident was resolved peacefully, it caused tense moments on campus – a situation some students felt was only made worse by the lack of information coming from the university.
SFU told CTV News Vancouver no one was available to answer questions about the response Wednesday, but pointed to a message that was distributed to students addressing their concerns.
"As a situation evolves details are not always clear. We try to share information as it is confirmed, and when and where it is appropriate and safe to do so," chief safety officer Mark Lalonde wrote.
"When a campus wide notification is needed I want to assure you that we have notification systems in place, but it is also important to note that it is not always safe to send out an alert as a situation is in progress."
The university takes direction from the RCMP during police incidents on campus, Lalonde noted.
SFU student Tayla Jackson learned about the gun scare on social media, where people were sharing pictures of police and helicopters at the university. She immediately went to SFU's website, but was surprised to find no information on what was happening.
She said it took more than an hour to get any concrete information about whether it was safe to be on campus.
"Why were students scared for so long? Why were we unaware for so long?" she said Tuesday. "Are you not going to acknowledge anything that just happened on your campus, with your students, in your buildings, in the last hour and a half?"
SFU eventually did address the gun scare in vague terms, tweeting that "everyone is safe and the situation is resolved" at around 4 p.m. It directed further questions to the RCMP.
The Burnaby detachment told CTV News that a number of the responding officers, which were from eight different RCMP units in addition to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, were in plainclothes.
“Our officers were responding to a report of a man wearing police clothing and allegedly carrying a firearm,” said a statement from the Burnaby RCMP. “The potential for confusion between the suspect and our officers on scene was also something which factored into the decision-making process as that would be a considerable concern for police officer safety.”
Jackson and a number of other students suggested the university should have used its app to send out an alert, as it does when there are snow days and road closures.
"You have all these students wondering what's going on and you're not acknowledging it at all and you have the platform to do so," she said.
SFU said the safety of students and staff is its top priority, and thanked Burnaby RCMP and campus security for their support.
Few other details about Tuesday's incident have been shared, but police said the 19-year-old they arrested was "wearing a ball cap with an RCMP logo on it."
No charges have been laid in connection with the gun scare, but Mounties say the 19 year-old faces mischief charges and potentially others as well.
SFU would not answer CTV News’ question as to whether the student would be allowed back to campus to complete his studies.