SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) — The University of Rhode Island was under lockdown for about 2½ hours Thursday after reports of someone with a gun on its rural South Kingstown 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 things got crazy in the classroom,” Castellone said.
By early afternoon, calm had returned. But classes were canceled for the rest of the day.
A toy Nerf gun was found inside a backpack that belonged to a student, police said, though they said they didn’t know if it had any connection to the incident.
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.
Tori Danielson, a student in the physiology class taught by professor Barbara Van Sciver, said she was sitting in the back of the auditorium in Chafee Hall with several hundred students when a commotion started diagonally in front of her.
“All of a sudden, we heard someone yell, ‘You’re a nice guy! You’re a nice guy!’ and sounding scared,” she said, adding that people started to move away from the area where the person was shouting. “Everybody started running and screaming out of the room, and our professor told us all to run. And everybody just ran out.”
Danielson said she did not see a gun or hear shots. She said she couldn’t tell whether a man or woman had been shouting or to whom they were talking.
“I didn’t hear anybody say that there was a weapon, and I didn’t see if there was. I was too far away,” she said.
Attempts to reach Van Sciver were not immediately successful.
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. URI President David 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.
Law enforcement officers and police dogs entered Chafee Hall and searched it room by room. At least three people received minor injuries in the rush to exit the building, URI Police Chief Stephen Baker said.
URI students Michael Wharton and Robert Ferrante were on their way to an animal science class at Chafee Hall when they saw people streaming out of the building. Wharton, an 18-year-old freshman, said he heard someone yell, “Go, go! He’s got a gun.”
The two roommates then ran back to their dorm room.
“It was chaos,” Ferrante, a 19-year-old freshman, said.
Paige Comstock, a 19-year-old sophomore, was on the second floor of Chafee Hall in a journalism class at the time. She said some of her classmates said they heard screams, then an alarm went off and a voice came over the loudspeaker warning of an emergency in the building.
“We didn’t know if it was a drill,” she said, but then the department head told them to leave immediately.
As she was going out, Comstock said she saw more than a dozen police officers rushing into the building.
Classes were set to resume Friday.
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report from Providence.