A day after a fatal shooting near campus left a University student at-large as a suspect, some students questioned the University’s ability to inform students and employees of potential safety threats.
At about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a 29-year-old Ypsilanti man was killed after entering the home of 28-year-old Engineering senior Andrew Robert Myrick.
Myrick, who police have called the primary suspect, remains at large.
Because of the crime scene’s close proximity to North Campus and Myrick’s ties to the University, the Department of Public Safety is teaming with the Ann Arbor Police Department in the investigation and has increased patrols around campus, DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said.
DPS was also tasked with notifying students and employees about the incident.
At 1:27 a.m. Thursday morning, about four hours after the homicide occurred, DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown sent an e-mail crime alert to department heads, members of the media and anyone who had signed up to receive alerts from the DPS website. Flyers detailing the incident were posted, many in University buildings.
Early Thursday morning, all residents of Baits Houses, Bursley Hall and Northwood Housing were sent e-mail notifications because of their close proximity to the location of the incident. Another crime alert, with more details about the homicide, was sent around 10:00 a.m. on Thursday.
Brown sent a mass e-mail message at noon yesterday to 72,000 University affiliates, including all students, faculty and staff. Because the database is so large, though, mass e-mail can take up to 10 hours to get to all recipients, meaning some recipients didn’t get the message until well into yesterday evening.
If a mass e-mail had been sent out at the same time as the initial crime alert, all students would have received a message about the incident by about noon yesterday.
But Brown said not enough details were available to send the mass e-mail at that time.
“We didn’t have that much information to be able to activate that system,” she said.
Brown said various heads of the schools and colleges who receive the crime alert e-mails are responsible for forwarding them on to students. The crime alert asks recipients to share the information with faculty, staff and student colleagues.
But many administrators never pass the alerts on, and because the global e-mail server takes so long to finish, many students are left in the dark.
“I heard about it through e-mails from other people – the University e-mail came much later,” LSA freshman Clark Evans said. “You’ve got to get the word out the moment you find out about something like this. Eighteen hours is just too late.”
To provide a more timely and comprehensive method of alerting students and faculty in emergency situations, the University is in the process of implementing a mass text message notification system.
Since April’s Virginia Tech shootings, colleges and universities across the country have put similar text message notification systems into place.
Brown said the University already has a contract with a company that will provide text message services. The system should be in place by the end of February.
“We’re moving just as fast as we can,” she said.
Brown said Wednesday night’s shooting was a scenario where the text messaging system might’ve been used, had it been in place.
“I can’t speculate at this point,” Brown said. “It very well may have.”
Many students said they think a text message notification process will be effective.
“I would have gotten (the message) then,” LSA sophomore Billy Holbert said. “I think it’s a better way.”
But some said the cell phone system could present problems of its own.
“I think it’s a good idea in theory, but would cause mass hysteria,” Ross School of Business sophomore Anthony Ambroselli said. “Text messaging would cause more panic than the University needs.”
Some students questioned whether classes should have been cancelled after hearing that a student wanted in connection to a shooting death was at large.
Brown said it would’ve been the professors’ decision to cancel classes.
She said no information led DPS to believe the suspect was still in the area.
“The Provost’s Office and other University leadership, in consultation with DPS, determined there weren’t reasons to cancel classes,” she said.
– Joe Stapleton, Elaine LaFay and Krista Lewis contributed to this report.