UMass students react to armed assault incident, shelter in place warning

By Anthony Chiusano

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts issued a shelter in place warning for almost 90 minutes Thursday night after two suspects, including one armed man with a handgun, assaulted a UMass student in Pierpont Hall dormitory.

One day after the incident, students around Southwest Residential Area and the University’s campus reacted to it with varied experiences and emotions.

Ashley Nhek, a UMass freshman math major who lives in Pierpont, said she was in the dormitory’s first floor common room when she and her friends first saw police activity. Nhek did not witness the assault, which happened on the third floor of the building.

“I was in the study room and me and my friends saw the police car just drive on the grass. Two people came out of the car and grabbed a gun and went in,” Nhek said Friday afternoon. “We decided to go to the lobby and a couple officers were there and told us to probably go to the dining commons or something like that. Then we left.”

After the interaction, Nhek said she and her friends complied and went to Berkshire Dining Commons where they were stationed for the shelter in place alert that was sent out via email and text alerts at 5:47 p.m. The shelter in place order was called off shortly after 7 p.m.

“We were there for about two hours because they wouldn’t let people leave,” Nhek said. “We just kept getting a bunch of updates from the campus and we realized that there was a person with a gun spotted somewhere at Pierpont.”

Other Pierpont residents were told by police to remain in their rooms, like freshman Adam Frye, a finance major.

“I was just going to the bathroom and I went into the hallway and there was a cop that made me get out of the way. It was pretty scary,” Frye said. “But he told me to get back in my room and then I looked outside and there was just a ton of police.”

Frye remained in his room where he stayed updated through the University’s alerts and on his Twitter feed.

“I just stayed in my room,” Frye added. “I attempted to work on my paper but I found it hard to focus with so much going on.”

Aneeswar Bairavasundaram, a sophomore microbiology major who lives in Washington Hall, was in W.E.B. Du Bois Library when he first heard of the incident Thursday night. With his phone tucked away, he was alerted by his friends who received the text alerts.

“I was doing my homework and one of my friends got the email that there was someone with a gun. I was like, ‘At UMass?’ My friends were freaking out,” Bairavasundaram said. “I was like, ‘It’s going to be O.K. We’re in a library, we’re going to be fine.’”

Bairavasundaram said he was surprised by how quickly the news spread outside of campus, as he and his friends received a flood of texts and calls from family and friends.

“We got a ton of calls from parents,” he said. “It was funny, someone from India called me and told me before I even knew it. I was like, ‘How do you know this?’”

For Ruthie Sterling, a junior English major who lives in Commonwealth Honors College, it wasn’t the first time she encountered a shelter in place warning. Sterling transferred to UMass from Salem State University where she was a student during a 2013 stabbing on campus that forced the school to enter lock-down mode.

Sterling said her experience at Salem State prepared her for Thursday’s incident, which she said was not as unnerving.

“I was in a (political science) class at the time so we had to stay there, (the experience) was way more frightening than anything that happened at UMass,” she said. “The UMass PD definitely kept everything under control compared to my last experience.”

While Sterling, who stayed in her dorm with her roommates, said she wasn’t fully aware of what shelter in place standards were, she referenced an emergency pamphlet that the University provided for all dorm residents when they moved in for proper protocol.

University spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said, to his recollection, the University has never issued a shelter in place warning in response to a crime.

Other students said they were not exactly sure what the order meant, although they said they inferred it meant to stay inside whichever building they were in.

“I was a little confused with the wording. I was like, ‘I guess that means kind of like lockdown? Does it mean the step before lockdown? I don’t know,’” said Paige Makuch, a sophomore nutrition major and Prince Hall resident.

William McKeown, 19, of Framingham, has since surrendered himself over to Framingham Police as one of the suspects Friday afternoon, according to Lieutenant Stephen Cronin. The other suspect remains at large.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.