- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

FERRUM, Va. (AP) — Ferrum College canceled classes and went on lockdown yesterday as police searched for a man seen with a gun in a residence hall, officials said.

Students were taken to the gymnasium during the day for security reasons, but were escorted back to their rooms yesterday evening. The school remained on lockdown.

Ferrum College President Jennifer L. Braaten activated an alert system and ordered the school locked down after a member of the housekeeping staff reported seeing a young man walk into Bassett Hall with a handgun, Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt said.

“Basically, he told the housekeeper not to say anything about it, and he continued on,” Sheriff Hunt said.

There were no reports of threats, no shots were fired, and no one on campus had been harmed, he said.

“We keep telling them safety is our pre-eminent concern,” Mrs. Braaten said. “We believe we’ve done it well.”

Several men matching the description of the man with the weapon were questioned but were not held, authorities said.

All campus buildings had been searched by yesterday evening, and police said they still had no idea who the suspect is or whether he is a student.

Sheriff Hunt said police were following up on the few leads they had received earlier in the day. A strong police presence will remain through today on campus and at an adjacent elementary school, he said.

State police sent troopers to the campus, as well as officers from surrounding counties, school spokeswoman Natalie Faunce said.

About 300 police officers from numerous agencies searched all buildings on 200 acres of the 700-acre campus.

“Ever since Virginia Tech, we can’t be careful enough,” Miss Faunce said. “That’s where we are.”

A panel that investigated the Virginia Tech killings concluded that lives could have been saved on April 16 if alerts had been sent earlier and classes canceled.

In Ferrum’s first alert, issued at 7:45 a.m., students were told: “POSSIBLE SHOOTING ON CAMPUS. STAY INDOORS. MORE DETAILS TO COME.”

The mention of a possible shooting was intended to get students’ attention, officials said.

Megan Hardy, a sophomore, said she was asleep in her room at Bassett Hall when her cell phone alerted her to a text message on the lockdown.

“This is nothing like Tech, but this is kind of surreal,” Miss Hardy said of the strong police presence on campus. “It’s a little scary, with all we had to go through.”

The second alert, at 8:13 a.m., read: “FERRUM COLLEGE CAMPUS ON LOCKDOWN. STAY INDOORS.”

More than 800 of the school’s 1,000 students live on campus.

“The students are OK,” Miss Faunce said.

While waiting in the gymnasium, students sat in small groups and comforted each other, Mrs. Braaten said. A few talked to counselors.

“This was a spectacular show of our motto, ‘Not self, but others,’ ” she said.

Verizon Wireless donated 25 mobile phones that students could use to call their families.

The school announced on its Web site yesterday that spring break, which was to start Friday, would begin immediately. Classes will resume March 10.

The school, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is in a rural setting 35 miles south of Roanoke, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

At Virginia Tech in April, a student gunman killed 32 persons before committing suicide on the campus in Blacksburg, which is less than 50 miles from Ferrum. The school was harshly criticized for not notifying students about two fatal shootings in a dormitory. Two hours later, Seung-hui Cho killed 30 students and teachers in a classroom building.

And less than two weeks ago, on Feb. 14, a gunman entered a crowded Northern Illinois University class, killing five students and taking his own life.

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