Parker Wright

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Times-Delphic News Article: Safety Alert

by Parker Wright

Originally published November 2, 2023 – via Times-Delphic

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Confusion in Meredith raises questions about Drake’s emergency preparedness

Photo by Meghan Holloran | Times-Delphic Photo Editor, fall 2023

On Monday, Oct. 9, at 7:18 p.m., students and faculty received a Bulldog Alert regarding a juvenile who had been flashing what was revealed to be a toy gun around Meredith Hall.

Before the campus alert went out, some students and faculty in Meredith Hall fled to the basement for cover while others stayed put in their classroom. Communication was coming from multiple sources, and no one knew for sure what to do.

Debra DeLaet, a political science professor, was teaching her regular Monday night class on the west side of the building when one of her students spoke up and said they had just received a text from a friend about the safety threat. That student had heard from a friend that people were being chased by someone on a scooter flashing a gun by Olmsted Center heading towards Meredith.

“That’s all I need to know. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. But if I have a report, it is my responsibility to act,” DeLaet said. “Instinct just kicked in, and I tried to help students feel as calm as possible in case it was a real incident. When someone says there’s an armed person on campus, I will take that as a credible threat until you prove me otherwise.”

DeLaet told her class to calmly and quietly pack up their things and head to the basement. She was last to leave so she could turn off the lights.

“Given that the report we received said there was someone riding around outside, it did not seem like a wise choice to let [the class leave the building]. The basement was our best bet,” DeLaet said.

Junior Lilly Ruiter, a student in DeLaet’s class that evening, said she sent a text message to her friends, before leaving the classroom, warning them of the incident and encouraging them to be careful. Her message was sent at 6:58 p.m., 20 minutes before the campus-wide alert.

Once in the basement, DeLaet said she called Drake Public Safety. The officer on the other line told her they believed it was just a kid with a toy but told them to stay put, and they would call back when they were certain it was safe to leave.

Right after hanging up, one of her students asked about the other classes in Meredith.

“I was so focused on getting my own class to safety, I wasn’t even thinking [about other classes],” DeLaet said.

DeLaet went back upstairs and did a loop around the building telling classes about the situation and that she had moved her class to the basement. All but one class followed suit. The one class that didn’t move said they had been told there was no incident, so they chose to stay. However, DeLaet did say at least one student from that class left and also went to the basement. 

Along with classes, a few stragglers in the building were also found and told. One of these stragglers was junior Megan Johnson, who had entered the building at approximately 7:04 p.m. for a Drake Mock Trial meeting.

“Before I could get to my room, [DeLaet] came walking down the hallway, and she stopped me and was like ‘you need to get to the basement’ and explained what was going on,” Johnson said. “So I got the person [in the mock trial room], and we walked down to the basement and stayed there till [DeLaet] gave the all clear.”

Ruiter and Johnson both described the basement as overflowing with people. Ruiter said the girls who had initially made the report of being chased were also down there talking about what they had experienced.

Senior Jacob Dolin, another of DeLaet’s students, described the atmosphere of the basement as a mix of outright fear and oddly calm. He said some people were acting like nothing was happening while others were clearly shaken up.

He said DeLaet remained calm the entire time and was good at checking in with students. 

“I was definitely concerned about everything,” Dolin said. “[The way] DeLaet handled everything was really reassuring.”

At 7:13 p.m., members of The Times-Delphic working in the TD office on the first floor of Meredith were first made aware of the situation via text message from another student.

Based on messages received by the TD at the time Public Safety gave DeLaet the all clear at approximately 7:14 p.m. This is corroborated by a text Dolin sent to his roommates saying he was finally able to leave and was on his way home.

After everyone in the basement departed, DeLaet and some of her students returned to their classroom to debrief and check in with each other.

“Even though it didn’t turn out to be a real threat, [the students] thought it was, and they were understandably scared,” DeLaet said. ”I wanted to give them a chance to talk those feelings through, so we did.” 

According to Scott Law, the director of Public Safety, DPS received their first call about the incident from a student at 7:16 p.m.

“Public Safety arrived on the scene within 90 seconds and began pursuit. [The] Bulldog Alert went out eight minutes after the initial report,” Law said in an email to the TD.

DPS pursued the individual off campus, lost sight of him briefly until a passing motorist pointed him out, and then were able to corner and apprehend him, Law added. They then discovered the gun was a toy.

“I can’t speak for how and who communicated to the students in Meredith Hall, and at what time, as those communications did not come from [Public Safety],” Law said.

Contrary to Law’s account, the Bulldog Alert was received at 7:18 p.m., approximately two minutes after he said an initial report was made.

After the incident, DeLaet said she took her concerns to President Marty Martin, Provost Sue Mattison and the rest of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. 

DeLaet admitted that sending everyone to the basement may not have been a perfect solution, but it was the furthest away from any window that she knew in the building.

She told the Faculty Senate EC she would like to see more specific guidelines for each building on campus on how to respond in a real emergency. 

When asked if there were guidelines or policies in place for students and faculty to follow in case of a threat to campus, Law provided the TD with the Drake University Emergency Manual, which has a one-page section on active shooters. It states that, in the event of an active shooter, people should run if it’s safe, hide if they can’t run and fight as a last resort. 

“As a professor it is my responsibility to keep my students safe, and I would like to know the best steps to follow,” DeLaet said. “This incident provides us with an opportunity to think about potential scenarios and hall specific guidance for faculty and students to follow in the event of a threat that turns out to be real rather than fake next time.”