A brief blockade on the campus of the University of Central Florida on Tuesday due to unconfirmed reports of someone with a weapon was partially motivated by a student who called 911 after she and her friend saw a Muslim woman in the library they considered suspicious.
On Tuesday, the university sent an alert to the entire campus through emails, text messages and on social networks warning people that possibly a person "from the Middle East" has a weapon in the library. The alerts did not say if the person was a man or a woman. Within an hour, the campus police gave their approval.
But the 15-minute compilation of the 911 calls that UCF students conducted on Tuesday afternoon, obtained by The Huffington Post, indicates that most people who made the calls responded to second-hand reports. Several people told the dispatcher that they saw rumors about a social media shootout, received a text message or listened to a friend who heard another friend that someone in the library had a gun. Many said that the rumors circulated rapidly in their brotherhood
A single call includes any first-hand information. In it, the caller says that she and her friend saw a woman wearing a burka or a hijab on the library ladder, who appeared to be frightened and trembling. The caller says that the woman quickly went to a corner and fell to her knees.
The caller then tells the 911 operator that her friend thought the woman had a gun or a gun.
"My friend saw a silver and black hand object: 80 percent was sure it was a gun, or that it was a gun, and she seemed really scared to see us," Caller said. "We were shaking, that's how scary it was."
It's late time on campus, so stressed students in the library are probably a fairly common sighting. It's not clear what's going on with the "hand object" that made the caller feel so sure it was a weapon.
Within half an hour, calls increase to people who say they heard there was a shooting in the library.
The call about the woman on the ladder coincides with a social media publication that UCF has confirmed, which aroused the school's concern that someone might have a weapon on campus.
Most colleges do not consider a person's race, ethnicity, or national origin when issuing emergency alerts about a potential person with a weapon.
The fact that UCF felt it was necessary to note that the possible gunman was the Middle East has provoked violent reactions from some students on campus. The Association of Muslim Students of the UCF published on Facebook asking Muslim students to remain calm and civilized when they discuss the issue. The head of the group told the Orlando Sentinel that "it is really scary that people can be so discriminatory and prejudiced." He made similar comments to the New York Daily News.
At a press conference on Wednesday, UCF police chief Richard Beary said the use of "Middle East" was not "meant to be insensitive or anything like that." The university has not responded to multiple requests for comments.
A reporter at the press conference asked Beary why it was necessary to include the Middle East in the alert, suggesting that he would have worried that he was in the library and that the warning was about a "black man with a gun." In response, Beary said previous warnings that did not include a descriptor about someone's race or other characteristics provoked criticism from students, parents, teachers and staff.
Beary also said that the message about a possible person in the Middle East with a weapon was broadcast by the school's emergency dispatchers.
"While that may have been offensive, I did not intend it to be that way, I intended to try to do the job as best we could, because we do not know when these things could become real." Beary said