Richard Beary (r), as University of Central Florida police Chief, shows an example of the assault rifle, with Grant Heston (c), as UCF associate vice-president of communications and public affairs, and John Hitt (l), as UCF president
By John Bacon
Some University of Central Florida students are not happy with their administration's efforts to keep students informed after a former student armed with a cache of weapons committed suicide in a dorm.
Campus police said they received a fire alarm call -- and minutes later a report of a man with a gun -- at about 12:20 a.m. ET Monday. Tower I, a seven-story dorm, was evacuated. Police found the body of 30-year-old James Seevakumaran in his dorm suite, and a search later revealed four explosive devices, two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
An emergency text and e-mail alert were sent to the Orlando school's 60,000 students at 2:10 a.m., citing a suspicious death. About 35 minutes later, an alert said there was no threat to the campus community. At 4:30 a.m., students were notified that a suspicious device was found.
School spokesman Grant Heston said Tuesday that officials tried to provide students with relevant information as quickly as possible.
"We had some (Facebook) posts from students saying they weren't informed, but a lot of parents thanking us for doing a good job," Heston said.
Some students felt their school flunked its communications test.
"People wish they had known sooner, much sooner," said Laura Newberry, news editor for the school's newspaper, Central Florida Future. "I've talked to a lot of students about this. People are complaining about not getting the alerts or the alerts coming too late."
Jasmine Derrick. a freshman from Atlanta, said school officials need to review their procedures for quickly getting information to students.
"Their response time was a huge disappointment to me and a lot of other students," Derrick said. Simone Hawkins, a freshman from Chicago, said, "The only way people found out anything was through social media, which can't always be trusted. I just feel it could have been handled a lot differently."
Not all students disapproved of the school's response. Cortez Whatley, the UCF student body president, said some of his student government colleagues credited the school with "very effective" communication.
"The last thing you want to do is give out false information or create panic," Whatley said.
UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said writings found in the dorm room indicated that Seevakumaran had planned a major attack on campus. Beary theorized that Seevakumaran pulled the fire alarm himself to get students out in the open.
Beary credited a quick police response with foiling what could have been a mass killing.
"His timeline got off," Beary said. "We think the rapid response of law enforcement may have changed his ability to think quickly on his feet."
Tuesday, officials said packages sent to Seevakumaran's campus address last week contained two more ammunition magazines for his rifle. Also, his family issued a brief statement that said "James was a loner and did not have a history of violence."
Classes resumed at noon Monday. Newberry said the atmosphere on campus was tense then but was much improved Tuesday.
"Yesterday there was a cloud over everyone's head," Newberry said. "Today, people are alive and vibrant again."