Lockdown lifted at NJ college

February 20, 2008 1:21:33 PM PST
St. Peter's College locked down its campus Wednesday for several hours following the discovery of a note that referenced killing students and the massacre at Virginia Tech. The lockdown ended shortly before 3 p.m., after a room-by-room police search of the roughly 3,000-student campus turned up nothing dangerous, school spokeswoman Lorraine McConnell said.

At 10:40 a.m., campus security became aware of the handwritten note, taped in the stairwell of an administration and classroom building, McConnell said.

Within two minutes, the college sent students e-mail and cell phone text message alerts, using a system set up after April's massacre at Virginia Tech, where a gunman murdered 32 people before killing himself.

McConnell said it was the first time the Jesuit school used its text message alert system.

"Living in the world we live in today, we have to respond to a note indicating this would happen," McConnell said.

Rebekah Maroun, 19, a sophomore from Somerset, said she immediately thought about last week's shooting at Northern Illinois University, where a gunman killed five students before committing suicide.

"I felt my heart pounding as soon as I got the text message," she said. "That's actually one of my biggest fears, but you never think it would happen here."

McConnell said she did not know exactly what the note said.

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said the handwritten note made no mention of bombs or guns, but did threaten violence against the school.

Police immediately ordered the campus closed as they began their search, aided by explosive-detecting dogs. No particular building was mentioned in the note, police said.

Students who live on campus were brought to a nearby gym to have their bags checked, officials said. Commuter students were being sent home, according to a posting on the college's Web site. Up to 1,000 students were evacuated, authorities said.

Carmen Class, a freshman, said some students started to panic when they were told they couldn't leave immediately.

"Some people started screaming," she said. "I was thinking, 'What's happening? Is this a rumor or is this real?' I felt safer after the police came."

Carmen called her mother, Nancy Class, who waited on a sidewalk by the campus until her daughter was allowed to leave.

"She said, 'Mom, I'm scared, come get me,"' Class said. "Your heart just stops when you get that call. You want to go running to make sure they're safe."

St. Peter's posted a notice of the lockdown on its Web site at 10:42 a.m., urging students and faculty to stay inside until further notice.

"In response to a suspicious note, the College decided to be proactive in following our emergency procedures," an update shortly after noon said.

McConnell said police were still trying to determine who posted the note, and what the motive might have been. McConnell said tapes from security cameras in the building would be reviewed.

Also Wednesday, a high school in Louisville, Ky., was locked down for a few hours after a student told officials she thought she saw someone with a gun on campus. No weapon was found after a room-by-room police search of Fern Creek Traditional High School, but police said they were looking for a former student based on the witness's description.

On the Net:

St. Peter's College: http://www.spc.edu/

Associated Press writer Jeffrey Gold in Newark and Chris Newmarker in Trenton contributed to this report.