Text led to campuswide lockdown
By Mitchell Roland - Staff Reporter
A text from a boyfriend led to Highline being put on lockdown for nearly three hours on Friday, Feb. 16.
These and more details were revealed during a forum last Friday to discuss the incident.
Representatives from the F.B.I., Des Moines Police, Public Safety, and Interim College President Jeff Wagnitz attended this forum to provide an update on the investigation, and to hear concerns.
On Friday, Feb. 16 the campus was put into lockdown after a report of gunshots on campus. Police believe that the shots were actually fired off campus, and they have recovered shell casings.
Des Moines Police Chief George Delgado said that the first calls were for an illegal discharge off campus, which he said is common for this area.
Chief Delgado said that over 150 people called to report the shots on campus.
As Des Moines Police got to Building 6 to assess the situation, a female called 911 to report that her boyfriend had run into Building 99.
Most of the campus is in Des Moines, Building 99 is in Kent.
"We were trying to figure out what's going on," Delgado said.
Kent Police dispatched SWAT to determine if there was a threat.
After searching Building 99 and the surrounding buildings, it was determined that there was no credible threat on campus.
Delgado said that misinformation on a situation can "spread very quickly, and it is understandable why."
Delgado said there were also misunderstandings amongst responders.
One of the first responders said they wanted the highway shut down, meaning Pacific Highway. I-5 was shut down for a period instead.
After an update on the investigation, staff, faculty, and students had their chance to voice concerns and ask questions of first responders.
Staff member Rhonda O'brien was concerned how the police did not search every building.
"You did not know my building was safe, and I am not OK with it," said O'brien. "How could you know I was not being held hostage?"
She also said that by releasing people before searching all buildings, "you put people at risk."
Chief Delgado said that after they searched Building 99 they determined that there was no risk, but he understood the concern.
"I totally respect your frustration and anger," Delgado said. "I will not forget your comment."
Among the other concerns was the fact that international students and students who are deaf did not know what was going on.
Director of Public Safety & Emergency Management David Menke said that Highline is looking into different ways to get the information to them and to people who are outside and may not know. Ideas include lights or speakers outside.
"We're looking at pictograms," said Menke.
Erica Juarez-Ramos voiced concerns that anyone can be on campus, and that some of the locks do not work properly.
Without going into detail, Menke said that they are currently working on the lock situation.
Claudia Bonilla of the FBI said that people need to keep their eyes open, and to report "anything that seems odd to you."
Bonilla also referenced the grandmother who turned in her grandson, who was planning a school shooting in Everett, to police.
While saying Highline is an open campus and saying anyone can be on it if they are not breaking the law, Chief Delgado said people need to be vigilant.
"We need that help," Delgado said.
That was the common theme of the forum, with speakers saying that Highline needed to learn something from this and to report anything that is suspicious.
"If we didn't learn from Friday [Feb. 16], it was for nothing," said Menke.
Chief Delgado was also open about wanting people to be more prepared in situations like this.
"One of the things we want as an outcome is to change the culture," Delgado said. "That's something everyone can do."