UCF Police: Our response to campus gun scare was not perfect

Police: Report of woman with gun in library posted on social media

ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida Police Department said Wednesday that its response to a possible gunwoman on campus was imperfect, especially since an officer's weapon accidentally discharged.

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UCFPD released a statement recapping the Tuesday incident, saying the department responded to "the type of incident that no student, parent or faculty member ever wants to hear about."

A social media post on the GroupMe texting app and several subsequent phone calls reported that a person of "Middle Eastern" appearance, possibly a woman, had a gun in the library.

"I was with (redacted) in the stairwell and we saw the girl," UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said describing the social media post that prompted the response.

"We were sitting in the stairwell and this girl came in she's like wearing full like, Muslim, like a hijab, like everything," one caller said. "She looked really panicky and shaky."

Police said the response increased when 911 callers reported they had seen the woman.

"I'm assuming she is praying, which is normal, which we didn't think much of it. My friend, like, saw a silver and black handheld object. It was some sort of weapon. She was like really freaked out to see us," the caller said.

"Timeliness is important in our game of saving lives," Beary said in regards to the alert text that came out, adding that emergency dispatchers put out the information quickly as best as they could.

The alert posted on UCF's website and sent out to students just before 4 p.m. Tuesday read, "*UCF ALERT**UCF ALERT* POSSIBLE MIDDLE EASTERN GUN MAN/WOMAN IN UCF MAIN CAMPUS LIBRARY. AVOID THE AREA!"

"Although it may have been offensive, it was not intended that way," Beary said. "Our response wasn't perfect. We will make it better."

Many students questioned the wording in the alert that was sent to students.The threat prompted a SWAT team response and evacuations. Police swarmed the UCF campus with assault rifles.

"We are trying to deal with the lives of young people and get information out and if we make a mistake along that way because we are acting quickly to save lives then I'm sorry," Beary said.

Students told News 6 that the description may have come after a student was seen wearing a headscarf in a stairwell.

Officers conducted a sweep of the library, but no gunwoman or suspicious activity was found, police said. The library soon reopened, but the initial warning lingered. Some said that it targets people from the Middle East, and it quickly received backlash from the Islamic community.

"I thought it was problematic that they were able to detect ethnicity but not necessarily the gender. I think there needs to be a thorough investigation before sending out an alert to 60,000 members of the UCF community," said Rasha Mubarak, with the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations.

Now, CAIR wants answers.

"We do call on them to create a proper investigation on who's posting maybe possible discriminatory microaggressive comments against Muslim students -- Middle Eastern students, for that matter," Mubarak said.

Beary said he was proud of his team's quick response, but added that it was not perfect.

"For instance, an officer's weapon accidentally discharged in his vehicle as he secured it to leave the area," said Beary, adding that the emergency response will become a learning lesson for his agency.

Beary also graded his agency's response.

"For the response, we were there within a couple of minutes that's an 'A', for I think for the size area that we searched and the amount of time that we did, that's an 'A' the perimeter, 'C' and the accidental discharge, that's a 'D' and we are going to address that," Beary said.

News 6 asked police if they found the person whom students were talking about on social media, but police said when they searched they didn't find anything or anyone suspicious. 

Police did say they are still searching for the person who posted the report of the woman on social media and the woman who seemed suspicious.