URI ends lockdown; says no gun or gunman on campus

The University of Rhode Island was under lockdown for about two-and-a-half hours Thursday after reports of someone with a gun on its Kingston campus, but police found no gunman, weapon or danger at any time.

Rhode Island State Police Capt. Frank Castellone said state police received calls at 11:22 a.m. reporting a person with a gun in a high-rise building that houses several academic departments and classrooms. According to police, a female professor believed she heard someone in her lecture hall say, "I'm a good guy and I have a gun."

"At that point the class erupted and they started to call 911," Castellone said.

The response of police was said to be exemplary. Campus police do not carry firearms and were not allowed in Chafee Hall, but South Kingstown and Rhode Island State Police arrived within 10 minutes.

"We did get a very rapid response time from the local police and our own force, and that was very satisfying," said URI President David Dooley.

School officials alerted students through its text alert system, its website and social media, to stay where they were and to wait for further updates.

By early afternoon, calm had returned. But classes were canceled for the rest of the day.

Law enforcement officers and police dogs entered Chafee Hall and searched it room-by-room. A toy Nerf gun was found inside a backpack that belonged to a student in the class, though police said they didn't know if it had any connection to the incident.

"We haven't eliminated (the owner of the backpack) but we are not sure if he was involved. It's a possibility, but at this point we don't know," Castellone said.

Police were considering a possible connection to an on-campus game run by a sanctioned student group called "Humans Vs. Zombies." Its website describes it as a game of tag that involves foam dart blasters but notes that "realistic looking weaponry" is prohibited.

"We do know that there is an active game by a sponsored group on campus, but in the two years that we've had that game there haven't been any problems. We don't know if there's any connection at all with the Nerf gun being found inside the classroom," said URI Police Chief Stephen Baker.

Kayla Gilmore was in the back of the lecture hall. She said she didn't see the person, she just heard him.

"He said he has a gun, to let him in," she said.

Kara Nunez, a sophomore student, was also in the class.

"I look forward because I was sitting in the back and everyone just dropped and dove into the aisles of the seats, so that's what I did. I literally just dropped. And the next thing you know our teacher's screaming, 'Run. Everybody get out.' And she's just screaming at us to get out. And I got up and run out and I don't know, I may have hit some people. I don't know, we were just running out," she said.

Shawn Volpe was sitting in the front of the lecture hall.

"Some of the kids around where I was sitting got very scared, yelled 'Get down' and that's when I think everyone panicked," he said.

According to police, there were roughly 300 people inside the lecture hall.

Baker said at least three people received minor injuries as people hurried to exit the building.

Alexa Babcock, a URI senior, said she was rattled by the experience.

"I haven't stopped shaking. It's really nerve-wracking," she said.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said in a statement he's relieved no one was seriously injured. He said the state will review how the situation was handled.

Dooley said the university, which has 13,000 undergraduates, also would review whether students took the lockdown seriously; many were walking around campus while the situation was going on despite being ordered to stay inside.

Classes resumed Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.