On Wednesday morning, officers from the CU Boulder and city of Boulder police departments fatally shot a man who reportedly was carrying a large machete through an athletic facility near Folsom Field.
Later that day, police with AR-15 rifles and protective gear entered the University Memorial Center, a hub of campus, in response to a threat that the university later described as a hoax.
A day of confusion included waves of alerts, some seemingly contradictory.
“This morning, and this afternoon, a lot of people ended up with an overwhelming sense of having questions with no answers,” said Kelsey Simpkins, 26, a graduate student in journalism.
The shooting this morning:
At about 9:15 this morning, a patient who was receiving medical treatment at the Champions Center encountered a man with a machete in the parking lot outside the building, according to campus police chief Melissa Zak.
The man with the machete made threatening statements, Zak said, and followed the patient back into the facility.
The reportedly armed man “made his way through several stairwells in the Champion Center,” Zak said. By that time multiple calls were coming into 911, and both the city and campus police departments responded.
Multiple officers found the man and “urged” him to drop the machete, but he didn’t, “at which time an officer-involved shooting occurred,” Zak said.
The man was arrested and hospitalized. He died in custody. The officers who fired their weapons – one from each department – will be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Further details haven’t been released.
The panic this afternoon:
Several hours later, around 1:14 p.m., the university announced that police officers had responded to and cleared a “false” report of an active shooter at University Memorial Center “and College Avenue,” which is about a fifth of a mile away.
The scare at the heart of campus wasn’t over yet. Armed officers also entered the UMC building. At this point, the campus chief said that students “chose to self-evacuate.”
However, Simpkins – the journalism student, who was in the building – said that officers shouted, “Everybody get out!” Multiple Facebook commenters made similar reports to the Boulder Daily Camera.
Officers “ran toward the middle of the UMC on the first floor,” she said. “Immediately after they got to the middle of the building, it was just mass chaos. Every single person went for an exit.”
She continued: “People were so freaked out they were pushing on each other. It was stampede-ish,” Simpkins said. She estimated that hundreds of people poured from the center, including a group of 200 that she was in. Her group ended up on University Hill just southwest of campus, where they waited for what she said was about an hour.
“We were stranded with no information. It was slowly sort of trickling through,” she said. She estimated that police had cleared the building around 1 p.m.
The university sent an “all clear” just after 2 p.m., after reportedly sending officers with a dog searching for a suspect. In a tweet, CU Boulder said that the afternoon panic may have been the result of a hoax.
“Most people weren’t even close to what happened, but this afternoon, that’s the heart, or the artery of campus. It had a really profound effect on all of the main campus,” Simpkins said.
Classes were set to continue as normal on Wednesday night, while Champions Center and UMC were still closed.
“Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with all affected by today’s violence,” said Chancellor Philip DeStefano.
He elaborated in a written news release:
“I know there were concerns by some that the campus was not closed. We determined that the actual threat that occurred this morning was quickly contained and brought under control by the police. Other activities were quickly determined to be false reports and that there was no active threat to the community. I know this was confusing and alarming for people in these locations, and we support anyone who decided they needed to leave. However, we did not feel a complete campus closure was necessary and could have created additional confusion.”