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

New details emerge about police searches during W&L lockdown

Virginia State Police spread across Lexington after Washington and Lee University received an email threat and a UPS driver reported possible shots fired near downtown
Luke Fountain
Seventeen Virginia State Police officers responded with local law enforcement to four different scenes on Nov. 1, 2023.

(This story first appeared on the Rockbridge Report)

Virginia State Police dispatched 17 officers to four different sites as they investigated a threatening email sent to Washington and Lee University officials earlier this month.

The police searched the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, W&L’s campus, a downtown church and the Woods Creek Montessori school, according to a state police incident history report obtained by the Rockbridge Report via a Freedom of Information Act request.

W&L was on lockdown for nearly four hours Nov. 1 after receiving the email threat that mentioned guns on campus.

“Evolving situations like this always are challenging to respond to,” said a spokeswoman for Virginia State Police. “Law enforcement’s top priority is keeping our citizens safe. They were spread out which of course poses its own unique circumstances.”

The information from the state police reports sheds new light on how the tense situation unfolded across campus and spread into the Montessori school and a downtown church. Lexington and county law enforcement, as well as W&L Public Safety, have not responded to repeated requests for similar incident reports.

The threat was emailed to Dean Chawne Kimber and Public Safety Director Craig VanClief shortly after 3 p.m. The call to law enforcement about the threats came in at 3:45 p.m. according to a press release from the Lexington police.

At the same time, students and employees were ordered to “shelter in place.” But some construction workers continued working for at least 40 minutes after the shelter in place order was issued.

“We had no clue what was going on until one of the guys checked his phone while taking a break,” one construction worker said. “Our manager sent us an email saying that there was some threat. There’s no way we could hear our phone ring or buzz while we are drilling or operating heavy machinery like a jackhammer.”

“It’s scary to think what could have happened in that time we were in lockdown,” another worker said.

Many construction workers did not find out about a shelter-in-place order until nearly 40 minutes after it was issued. (Luke Fountain)

The first response by state police came at 3:58 p.m. after a UPS driver called W&L Public Safety to report possible “shots fired” at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house.

Police arrived on scene at 4:05 p.m. and cleared the house of any safety threats in five minutes. After using a K-9 unit to sweep three floors, police determined that the possible shots were students throwing firecrackers out of the windows of the fraternity house.

“I have no idea why some of my brothers were throwing firecrackers,” one Kappa Sigma member said. “It’s dumb to do that any time, much less during a lockdown.”

Meanwhile, other officers were responding to the emailed threat.

At 4:14 p.m., law enforcement arrived on W&L’s campus and began searching buildings with K-9 units and tactical squads armed with rifles. The response spread across campus to residence halls near Woods Creek to the back of campus near the soccer fields.

At 4:45 p.m., state police reported “all of the children” were secure the Woods Creek Montessori school.

State police later assisted the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s department in searching the library at 4:49 p.m. The law school was searched at 4:57 p.m. Nearly an hour later, it was cleared of safety threats at 5:49 p.m.

At 5:26 p.m., construction workers who were “hunkered down” at the construction site were taken to a safe location by police.

Simultaneously, officers searched the Graham-Lees and Gaines residence halls as well as other academic buildings. Throughout their search, officers encountered many frightened students who could be seen huddling together in the dark.

At 5:53 p.m., state police responded to an alarm at a church in downtown Lexington. The threat was about a possible fire which was later deemed a false alarm.

According to state police reports, the residence halls were cleared of any safety threats at 6:58 p.m. Shortly after, at 7:04 p.m., law enforcement searched on-campus sorority houses.

However, some students say that law enforcement did not clear the rooms they were hiding in.

“It was concerning that we were just hiding in our room and had not seen any law enforcement when they sent out an all clear,” said Julianna Stephenson, a sophomore. “I was concerned that they hadn’t taken the time to check our building.”

At 7:29 p.m., the search of campus was complete and shelter-in-place order was lifted. All state police left by 9:09 p.m.

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