NORMAN — Reports of gunfire on the University of Oklahoma campus Wednesday morning turned out to be a false alarm, but university officials aren’t complaining.
Officials said the incident showcased the efficiency of the university’s shooter response and evacuation plans, which faculty and staff have been reviewing recently.
President David L. Boren said a faculty member in the College of Architecture heard what she thought were gunshots. OU and Norman Police searched Gould Hall and found no evidence of a shooting. Boren and Vice President Nick Hathaway were on the scene within minutes.
“I didn’t hear anything,” said Tom Woodfin, landscape architecture professor in Gould Hall. “I was in my office, and I looked up and there was a uniformed officer carrying a rifle running toward the stairwell outside.”
Woodfin said somebody thought they heard gunshots, so they initiated the active shooter response team.
“It appeared that there were well-organized teams going room to room down the hallways,” he said.
Woodfin said faculty and staff had recently watched a training video about active shooters, so they knew what to do.
Dozens of OU and Norman police officers converged on the scene within minutes of the 11:15 a.m. call. Students, faculty and staff were alerted by text message and emails to avoid Gould Hall and shelter in place.
Police cleared Asp Avenue, north of Lindsey Street. As television helicopters circled overhead, broadcast crews began setting up live feed trucks near Lindsey Street.
After a search, it was determined that the disturbance the professor heard may have been related to ongoing construction of Scholars Walk. A backhoe was being used on the east side of Gould Hall along Asp Avenue. Construction equipment also was being used on the west side of the building along the South Oval.
“We know there is wide-spread interest in the incident that occurred today,” Boren said at an afternoon press conference. “At approximately 11:15, we received a call from the police department. I was able to immediately have the police send out the emergency text to put the campus on lockdown and begin evacuation of Gould Hall. A search has been carried out without panic.
“The report came from a faculty member who reported they thought they had heard three shots fired,” Boren said. “At this point, we have we found no evidence that three shots were fired. No one saw anyone who was described as a potential shooter. It seems more likely it was other sounds that the person heard that could have sounded like shots.”
Boren said the emergency text was sent out three minutes after the faculty member called.
“We alerted people to avoid Gould Hall and seek immediate shelter. As far as we can tell, the entire campus responded. From our point of view, it was very reassuring that all systems worked well,” he said.
After about 45 minutes, Boren lifted the campus-wide lockdown and confined the perimeter to Gould Hall.
“You can never take these kind of reports lightly,” Boren said. “The faculty person did exactly the right thing. We do know there is a lot of construction work going on near the building. Heavy equipment. That might have been the noises heard. That’s just speculation. The person was very sincere in feeling they heard three shots.”
The president was asked if his opposition to allowing students to carry weapons on campus had changed since the incident. Oklahoma lawmakers have considered legislation to allow students to carry weapons on university campuses.
“I think what happened today shows that the most unwise thing in the world we can do is put guns in the hands of all the people on campus,” Boren said. “First of all, when the SWAT team comes to a building, and they are trying to protect our students, how do they know whether it’s a good person or a bad person? I think the most dangerous thing is that some of those people may be waiving weapons and get shot.
“I think having amateurs who are unidentified to the SWAT team running around with guns is absolutely the worst thing that can be done. I am strongly opposed to arming people and putting guns in the hands of people who don’t have training.”
OU sophomore Alexi Smith said he was in Gittinger Hall coming down the stairs when he saw everyone huddled by the door and everyone was told they could not go outside.
Smith said his next class was in Gaylord Hall, next to Gould Hall, so as he walked down the South Oval, he saw police with assault rifles.
“It’s scary,” OU student Natalyia Krempovska said.
Krempovska was leaving a zoology class at nearby Dale Hall when she saw the police officers.
Sophomore Jake Odgers stayed in Gaylord Hall for about 35 minutes during the incident, but he said he wasn’t really scared.
“President Boren came in and gave us the go ahead to leave. He mentioned something about everything’s OK and it could have been just equipment backfiring,” Odgers said.
None of the students or faculty interviewed reported hearing anything resembling shots fired on campus. Students said communication from Boren was reassuring and campus life quickly resumed to normal when police gave the all clear.
Boren said he was pleased with the emergency response, which went out to the entire campus. He appreciated the Norman SWAT team responding so quickly.
The Norman Police Department said approximately 20 to 25 officers, including the SWAT team, assisted the University of Oklahoma Police Department during the incident. Medical and fire departments also were standing by, according to a police press release.
In 2005, a University of Oklahoma student committed suicide near the Botany Micro-Biology Building on the South Oval north of Gould Hall during a home football game. The student detonated an explosive device attached to his body. No one else was injured.
Senior staff writer Joy Hampton contributed to the report.