The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Washington and Lee community still shaken one day after lockdown

Students came in close proximity to rifles after a ‘disjointed’ threat was emailed to university officials
Shauna Muckle
A law enforcement officer carrying a rifle leaves a room in the Center for Global Learning, amid an hours-long campus search yesterday.

Students hunkered on the ground as law enforcement officers touting large black rifles stepped between them. Students trapped in a narrow atrium. Faculty and students barricading unlocked doors with chairs and tables.

These scenes marked Washington and Lee’s campus yesterday during a lockdown that lasted nearly four hours. President Will Dudley revealed today that the shelter-in-place order, which went out at 3:45 p.m., was spurred by an anonymous threat sent to university officials.

A source with knowledge of the situation told the Phi that the threat was sent via email to Dean Chawne Kimber and Public Safety Director Craig VanClief shortly after 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The source said the email made general threats of violence and mentioned guns, but made no direct mentions of individuals. The source requested anonymity for the sake of preserving their position at the university.

The source said the sender of the threat expressed anger in the email. The source said the sender’s disjointed and confusing language made the threat seem either like a hoax, or like it was sent from someone in a mental health crisis.

Police found no active threat on Washington and Lee’s campus Wednesday, according to a statement from the university.  

Dudley said that the threat was anonymous and “did not target a specific individual or location.” 

Students, faculty and staff were ordered to shelter in place in classrooms, residences and other on-campus locations from 3:45 p.m. to 7:23 p.m on Wednesday. Hours later, students were confronted by law enforcement officers with rifles as the officers conducted a building-by-building search of campus.

A table was propped up against the door of a classroom where students were sheltering in place on Wednesday, Nov. 1. (Luke Fountain)

Chaos across campus

Elizabeth McGee, ’24, said she was near Elrod Commons when the alert was sent out.

“The head of Public Safety came sprinting across the lawn… yelling and signaling to get inside, yelling, ‘Everybody in the room now and away from the windows,’” she said. McGee said she and other students went to the third floor of commons to take shelter. 

Just after law enforcement responded to the first threat, a second incident — fireworks near a fraternity house — prompted a police response.

Shortly after the shelter-in-place alert was sent, police rushed to Davidson Park, a neighborhood that contains five of the university’s fraternity houses.  

Virginia State Police parked on East Nelson Street on Wednesday, Nov. 1, among a police search of fraternity houses in Davidson Park that included K-9 units. (Catherine McKean)

Devlin Daugherty, ’26, was at the Sigma Chi house at 216 E Nelson St. when he got the alert. He said Public Safety ushered him indoors, and the sheriff’s department arrived in the neighborhood soon after. He was in his room with the door locked, he said, when he heard a “popping” noise from outside.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, I’m safe, I’m in Davidson Park,’” he said. “And then five minutes later, hearing that ‘pop pop’ and hearing all these reports about stuff going on in Davidson and the police coming, really kind of shook me.” 

The fireworks were initially reported to police as possible gunfire, Dudley said in the statement. A university spokesperson told the Phi on Thursday that the university is not aware of actual shots fired.

Catherine McKean, ’24, said she saw three police cars and a K-9 unit at Davidson Park around 4:30. She said the police were walking around the Kappa Sigma house at 220 E Nelson St. before the K-9 unit entered the house.

Anxieties high during lockdown

During the scene at Davidson Park, students continued locking down on campus. Some classrooms on campus did not have doors that lock, students said.

Nona David, ’26, said the building she was locked down in Chavis Hall was never searched. Other buildings, such as Tucker Hall, Early Fielding, Hillel House and some residential areas, were not searched, according to students.

“Someone or something bad could have been in there, and we wouldn’t know,” David said.

Cami Knott, ’27, was in a classroom in the Center for Global Learning when police began searching campus. She said the armed officers only made the situation more terrifying. 

A law enforcement officer carries a gun and flashlight as he steps between students who are sheltering-in-place on Wednesday, Nov. 1. (Obtained by the Phi)

“It was crazy, seeing them walk past me with a huge gun in my face,” she said. “It was really scary. It finally hit me, what was happening. I knew the possibility of what could happen, but it wasn’t real until that moment.”

Gabby Kogan, ’24, said she saw students trapped in a narrow atrium leading to the entrance in Tucker Hall.

A community-wide response

Law enforcement officers armed with rifles enter the Center for Global Learning on Wednesday, Nov. 1, during a campus-wide lockdown. (Harper Meacham)

The Lexington Police Department, Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office and Public Safety declined to comment and referred all inquiries from the Rockbridge Report to Drewry Sackett, the university’s executive director of communications and public affairs.

The Lexington Police Department also said they can’t disclose the police record yet because it’s still an ongoing investigation.

Virginia Military Institute was also under a shelter-in-place order, and some businesses in downtown Lexington were instructed to do the same. 

Anxieties were not limited to campus. Ladles and Linens Kitchen Shoppe Manager Trez Sebrell said she didn’t hear about the lockdown until more than an hour after it started. Police never came to search the shop on South Main Street, and she said she never would have learned of the threat unless she reached out to one of her employees that attends Washington and Lee. 

“I was nervous, just because we’re so close to campus,” she said. “If it was some crazed person, what’s to stop them from running two blocks into town?”

This is a developing story. The Phi will add further updates in the coming days.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Emma Malinak, Managing Editor
Shauna Muckle, Editor-in-Chief

Comments (0)

All The Ring-tum Phi Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *