On Wednesday, March 16th at 10:43 a.m., my sister and I received a text message from our close friend that read, “I love you both so much.” At first glance, this may have appeared simply to be a universal statement of friendship and gratitude. However, when sent with no context and left with no reply, it began to create an eerie feeling. It was only half an hour later that she sent another message, writing that her school had been placed in an emergency state and that she had sent out numerous messages to loved ones as a result of the panic and fear that it induced.
At approximately 9:40 a.m., the police received a call from a member of the community at Farmingdale State College, reporting a man who appeared to be assembling a rifle in the parking lot of the school. While police hurried over to take control of the situation, students and faculty were urged to remain inside the building and out of sight. This state of lockdown was not prolonged, though, and the school day returned to its regular schedule within an hour. At 10:45 a.m., the official Farmingdale State College Facebook page posted a status saying that “The police situation on campus has been resolved without incident. All students, faculty, and staff should resume normal activities.” Nevertheless, this event raised more than a few questions about the safety of students while they are at school.
According to students who witnessed the event firsthand, the lockdown procedures seemed to lack any rhyme or reason. In response to the school’s Facebook post, user Stefanie Maria–a self-proclaimed proud alumna of the college–posted a comment, complaining that the situation was severely mishandled. Even though she was grateful that today’s incident did not cause harm, she believes that “proper precautions need to be taken in the event that something catastrophic does occur.” Her concern stemmed mainly from the fact that her sister was in class when she received the “shelter in place” text that alerted the student body of the emergency state. According to her comment, “[her sister’s] classroom doors in Gleeson Hall do not lock” and the students and faculty “resorted to barricading the door shut with a desk.” Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, echoed this story in an email that she sent to the president of the college, explaining that during the time of the lockdown “everyone was yelling,” and that she could even “hear some professors screaming at their classes.”
It is unclear what part of this image is more disturbing: the fact that there was a room full of students in danger at a local university, or the fact that no one in a college of roughly 8,700 students knew how to behave during a state of emergency. In a second comment, Stefanie Maria wrote, “The fact that students asked among themselves ‘should we shut the door?’ or ‘should we tell the professor [of the alert text message]’ proves there needs to be a plan in place for emergency situations that all students and faculty are fully aware of.” Everything surrounding the event was shrouded in doubt and panic, as the anonymous source described the fear she felt sitting in the room, “wondering if she [she] would be a sitting duck waiting for a shooter if [she] stayed, or if leaving would put [her] directly in harm’s way.” Furthermore, it did not lessen her anxiety when a woman, “who [she] presumed to be some kind of security… loudly yelled at anyone in the hallway, unlocked the doors of [her] classroom, ushered them in, then loudly slammed the door” without making sure that “the people coming into the room were safe and not armed before locking them in a room with [the students].”
When it became clear that there was never any real threat, as the speculated “rifle” was actually a “toy lightsaber,” many began joking about the situation. Even WBAC-TV’s Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager made light of the mistake, tweeting, “If he wanted the force to be with him-they were! Man with a lightsaber, not a rifle, had SUNY Farmingdale sheltering in place this morning.”
Yes, an entire university was locked down because of a toy, but that does not mean that today’s events should be taken as a joke. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation just further proves how desperately precautions need to be taken in order to prevent widespread panic. Even after becoming aware of the humorous outcome, the anonymous source says that she still cannot shake the terror that she felt, as the day’s “misunderstanding… was a wake up call” that made her realize that “if someone did enter an academic building with a gun, no one would be prepared to stop or apprehend them.”
She concluded her email by saying, “Today, I realized that I’d felt immune to the idea of a school shooting; it was so distant from my life that I didn’t have to worry about it. I realize now that this campus is an extremely dangerous place to be.” This is true, as in general it is hard to regulate large college campuses, causing them to be hot-spots for crime. Unfortunately, this often gets swept under the rug, as the majority of colleges are more concerned with maintaining their reputations than with exposing and subsequently erasing dangerous activity.
However, this is not acceptable in a post-Columbine America. On April 20th, it will be the 17th anniversary of the worst school shooting in history. It is the responsibility of all schools in the United States to ensure that the fifteen fatalities of that infamous day were not in vain by enforcing safety regulations on their grounds. Not only should all schools have locks on their doors, but they should also be required to run systematic safety drills that inform all personnel of proper emergency procedures.
After today’s incident at Farmingdale State College, it has become clear that the country remains under-prepared for emergencies, despite the fact that school shootings are not uncommon stories on the evening news. Since 1980, no less than 297 people have been killed in school shootings, but this has not stopped schools with outdated safety procedures from flying under the radar. We have all heard or seen the endless news stories regarding the tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook, but we are still unsure how to react if we happen to be the next target. As a society, we have not beat the dead horse hard enough to actually fix the problem, and that is something that needs to change before another student gets hurt.