Paper-mache gun causes alarm at U of C campus

After campus security was alerted that someone was carrying a gun Monday at the University of Calgary, city police investigated and found no active threat — but some students are left wondering why they weren’t notified.

Just after 8:30 a.m. Monday, a call came in to the University of Calgary that there was a male carrying either a shotgun or rifle on campus.

The call was forwarded to the Calgary Police Service, said Acting Staff Sgt. Travis Juska, who was part of the on-campus investigation.

“A number of different units responded from around the city, and in conjunction with security were were able to eventually locate the male and deem that it was a paper-mache, replica firearm versus a legitimate threat,” said Juska.

Acting Staff Sgt.Travis Juska of the Calgary Police Service says causing unnecessary panic can be detrimental to ongoing investigations. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Juska estimates it took 45 minutes to locate the male, due to the size of the campus, a lack of further information being called in and a lack of any other indicators.

The male was not intentionally scaring people but had the paper-mache gun as a prop for an exhibit taking place on campus, explained Juska.

“He had not considered the ramifications of carrying such a realistic looking replica firearm on campus property,” said Juska.

No Notifications

Law and society student Jessica Deveaux was on campus all morning and didn’t receive any alerts.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that here and I’ve been going here for like three years,” she said. “I noticed that [the police] were outside of the psychology building and they had guns and stuff.”

She said she received no alerts explaining what was happening.

“I’ve been walking around since like 7 a.m., so it was a little bit concerning,” Deveaux said.

Jessica Deveaux was on campus during the incident. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Biological sciences student Desmond Avery witnessed the police officers arrive on campus and watched as they entered MacEwan Hall during their investigation.

“I was walking into [MacEwan] hall and a few police cars rolled up, and then the guys in tactical uniforms came in with their assault rifles. They were like half jogging in,” said Avery.

“Then I walked through Mac hall and one of the police officers was holding the fake gun that was causing all the commotion.”

Avery said he also didn’t receive any kind of alert about the potential of a threat on campus but had seen other students on Twitter expressing frustration at being kept in the dark.

“If it’s big enough to warrant a police response like that, I think we have a right to know about it,” said Avery.

“I was walking right in behind them. If something was happening, I would have been caught in it all.”

Desmond Avery says if something could affect him, he wants to know about it as it’s happening. (Mike Symington/CBC)

At around 3:45 p.m., the U of C provost and vice-president Dru Marshall sent out an email to staff and students.

“Unfortunately, there were some technical issues in sending out notifications using some of our UCalgary communication channels, which we are investigating to correct immediately,” the email said.

“The University of Calgary takes the importance of emergency communications very seriously, and we apologize for the lack of communication this morning due to technical difficulties. The safety and security of all of our campuses is of utmost importance to us.”

No need to cause panic

Both the @UCalgary and @CalgaryPolice Twitter accounts tweeted out live updates during and after the investigation, but no official alert was made through the U of C app.

This was purposeful, said Juska, who explained that there were no further flags beyond the initial call-ins to indicate the need to send out an official alert.

“That is always a balance to be struck, informing the public on instances like this that might be considered the real thing. As the call progressed, it became more and more likely that it wasn’t a threat that we felt we needed to notify students of,” said Juska.

He said further developments such as additional calls, people injured, sounds of gunfire, would have warranted an alert.

“Campus is very well monitored from a CCTV (surveillance camera) standpoint and they just didn’t see him anywhere,” Juska said.

“We did have the U of C standing by to load up information on the app if the need arose. But we feared that had we circulated that information, it would have caused more panic, and it wasn’t our intention to alarm students or create more of an issue.”

“You would anticipate on an instance like this where it was legitimate, you would anticipate hundreds of calls, things appearing over social media, mass chaos, people running — and none of those risk factors were present.”

There are tens of thousands of people on campus at any particular point in the day, and creating panic can often hinder the investigation, he said.

“To have all of them try to exit or to have people who are associated with those students try to make entry onto the campus to ensure their well-being — that can heavily impact police’s efforts to try to determine whether a call is, in fact, real or not,” said Juska.

The owner of the paper-mache gun will not be charged, and police are not looking for anyone else related to the incident, said Juska.



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