Police: Woman who reported seeing gun at UNF had mental issues

University investigates delayed safety alert reported by some students, staff

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor, Corley Peel - Reporter, Nick Jones - Digital producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nearly 90 minutes after Jacksonville police got a call reporting seeing a person with a gun in the parking garage across from the University of North Florida arena, a campus spokesperson announced there was "no credible threat."

The University Police Department, along with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, said a 74-year-old woman with mental health issues made the call Monday about seeing a person with a gun in the garage of Building 38, which is next to the Student Union. Police said the woman has since been involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility.

A text message sent at 6:12 p.m. Monday warned students and faculty to leave the area and avoid the garage next to the arena. Officers blocked the parking garage while it was searched.

"My professor stopped class, and he told us to take like five or 10 minutes to call our families and text them ... just to let them know what’s going on," said student Daniel Williams.

At 7:33 p.m. Monday, the university sent an update saying the search was complete and the parking garage "has been rendered safe. If you have sheltered in place anywhere on campus, you are now free to leave."

According to Sharon Ashton, vice president of university public relations, JSO received a phone call from the woman saying she saw a person with a gun on campus. The Sheriff's Office immediately notified the University of North Florida Police Department.

With the exception of the phone call made to JSO, there were no other reports from anyone seeing someone with a gun, Ashton said.

The university's Information Technology Services is also investigating the delayed alert reported by some students and staff.

While UNF sent a first alert to students, faculty and staff shortly after 6 p.m., some students said they weren't notified until a second alert at 7:02 p.m. asked people to leave the area and advised that all classes were canceled for the rest of the day.

While some received the message within one minute, many students, faculty and staff never received that first message, which is completely unacceptable. Information Technology Services is investigating the delay and UNF will take corrective action to ensure that the campus community is quickly informed of future situations. UNF takes emergency situations very seriously and is always looking for ways to improve

- UNF Crisis Management Team

"Some people, I guess, got it online and then the texts came through a little afterward, so we already heard about it, but not everyone was alerted," Samantha Cass said. "We just didn't know if we could all fully take it seriously."

Dawson Ondrejicka was among some students who said they never received the initial notification. He said he found himself in the area of campus where police were investigating.

"I was actually in the parking garage right as they were going upstairs to secure everything," Ondrejicka said. "Luckily, we got down. I didn’t find out till 7:31 it was an all-clear, all good." 

Student Jamal Gaynes told News4Jax that he got a text when it was supposed to go out at 6:11 p.m. Monday, but he said his friend with him didn't get that text. 

"A friend of mine who I was with, his phone didn’t get it," Gaynes said. "We were together and he was like, 'What?' and I said, 'Yo, did you hear about this?' But he didn’t get the notification so I don’t know why that happened."

Students said they are glad there was nothing to this threat because many people could have been hurt because of the delay in getting the word out about a possible threat.

"When you’re on campus and you’re not being told that something is happening when it’s happening, that’s really concerning because you don’t have proper time to react to the threat," student Traci Hayes said. "People were supposed to barricade themselves and take cover. If they’re not being told when it’s happening that that’s happening, I can’t properly react."

Ashton said inconsistency with the school's critical alerts is something the university is investigating.

Campus operations returned to normal Tuesday.

An update issued to the university community just before 7 a.m. Tuesday let them know what happened and what will happen next.

Information Technology Services is investigating the delay and UNF will take corrective action to ensure that the campus community is quickly informed of future situations. UNF takes emergency situations very seriously and is always looking for ways to improve."

- UNF Crisis Management Team

The university does use a PA system, but in Monday's case, it was not used. As a part of the debriefing process, UNF is working to find out why the PA was not used.

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