Pulaski Citizen

UT Southern Campus Locked Down, No Threat Found

While the lockdown of the University of Tennessee Southern campus last week turned out not to be an actual threat, it would not be accurate to call it a hoax either.

Pulaski Police, Giles County Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol law enforcement officers converge upon the University of Tennessee Southern campus last week in response to a mistaken “active shooter” call. The campus was cleared and “no active threat” found.   Scott Stewart / Pulaski Citizen

Pulaski Police Chief John Dickey had that to say about the incident last Wednesday (Jan. 31) that also resulted in businesses in the area and schools in Pulaski locking down. 

Law Enforcement including Pulaski Police, Giles County Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol descended upon the scene Wednesday, dispatched to a report of an active shooter at the UTS campus.

After more than an hour on the scene, Dickey said there had been no shots fired and no threat identified. Students who were sheltering in place in buildings across the campus were contacted by law enforcement and allowed to leave the area.

The City of Pulaski released a statement Wednesday: “UT Southern learned of a potential threat in the area this afternoon and immediately went into a shelter in place order. State and local authorities responded to sweep the campus. Authorities have issued an all clear. All classes have been canceled for the remainder of the day. Thank you to all first responders that assisted to help resolve this issue and in keeping our community safe!”

UT Southern also released the following statement Wednesday: “At approximately 2:47 p.m., UT Southern Security received a call of a potential threat in the area. The university immediately issued a shelter in place order while state and local authorities evaluated the threat. 

“No active threat was identified, and state and local authorities issued an all clear at 4:03 p.m. Classes for the remainder of the day have been canceled.”

Dickey said the active shooter report at UT Southern was not the result of a specific individual trying to pull a hoax or create a panic. 

According to the chief, the incident was traced back to an earlier report at a school in a nearby county. When that school reported a potential threat they had received to other dispatch agencies surrounding them, Giles County was included.

Scott Stewart / Pulaski Citizen

Dickey said when Giles County’s dispatch received the notice, which he described as more of a “be on the look out” type notice concerning possible activity in the area, they reached out to area schools, including security at UT Southern.

Dickey said UT Southern made the decision based on the information from dispatch to issue a campus lockdown with a message sent to students, the title of which, he said, used the verbiage “active shooter,” which he said referred to active shooter protocol rather than an actual active shooter.

When the lockdown message went out, a call was made to E-911 from Colonial Hall reporting an active shooter on campus, according to Dickey, who added that dispatch got the caller’s location and dispatched responders to an active shooter event at Colonial Hall on the UT Southern campus.

At the point an active shooter call was dispatched, law enforcement were responding to what they believed to be an actual call, Dickey said. They started at Colonial Hall, and, once it was clear, he said he instructed officers to go to the other buildings and identify any potential threats.

“That’s why it took so long to clear it,” Dickey said. “The campus has multiple buildings with two or three stories and basements. You want it to be unfounded but it ends up being like a needle in a haystack when the threat turns out not to be real.”

“Everyone pulled together and everything meshed very well,” Dickey said of the response. “We couldn’t have asked for things to proceed any better than they did.”

Dickey said, under the circumstances, he would always prefer the people who responded do as they did, if they believed it to be a real threat.

“I’d rather them respond as they did, and it be unfounded,” he said. “At the time UT Southern initiated the lockdown, I don’t know that they expected law enforcement would be responding, but at the time that was initiated, it was perceived to be a real threat. I’d much rather have her respond that way to what she believed was a real threat.”