‘No one knew what was going on’: Students frustrated at Duke’s emergency response to UNC shooting, express initial shock

Following Monday’s shooting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that left one faculty member dead and UNC’s campus under lockdown for hours, some Duke students expressed feelings of worry during the situation and disappointment towards Duke’s emergency response. 

Initial reactions

Many students remarked that they knew people at UNC who were directly impacted by the attack, but found out at various times about the situation their friends and loved ones were in. Some Duke students, including the dual-campus Robertson Scholars, also take classes at UNC and regularly travel between campuses.

Junior Athena Wells first learned about the shooting around 1:45 p.m. from a group chat she was a part of, which included several Robertson Scholars who shared an initial announcement from Alert Carolina, UNC’s emergency alert system. She recalls immediately contacting people she knew at Chapel Hill, recounting feelings of “[anxiety], worry and panic all in one.”

“I was just really worried because I had [my friend], and last year I met a couple of Robertson Scholars from UNC,” Wells said. “I was with my friends in an apartment, and we all checked their locations just to see where they were at and if they were OK.”

At 3 p.m., sophomore Aditya Raj was preparing to go to an information session for Robertson Scholars held on the UNC campus when he was first informed by his friends to stay off the campus due to the shooting. 

Due to the shooting, Raj states that he feels “really apprehensive” about going to UNC next semester as part of the Robertson Scholarship. 

“My heart really goes out to international students at UNC right now, because this would have been their second week on campus,” Raj, who is also an international student, said. “We are thousands and thousands of miles away from home, and my heart just goes out to them and their parents because they must be under such stress.”

Senior Randi Jennings first heard about the event at 4 p.m. from a text message from her boyfriend, who is a Robertson Scholar. Prior to the message, the only information Jennings had about the shooting was the photo of the suspect, Tailei Qi, circulating the internet, which she saw on a classmate’s laptop.

“It was shocking and scary because I have friends at UNC; I have family that lives in Chapel Hill,” she said. “Knowing that they still didn’t have him in custody … was very scary.”

Jennings added that she was not only shocked by the situation, but at how she responded. She described feeling “used to this sort of violence” when she rationalized that the shooting was “probably not a threat to [her] … when really, we're all at risk from gun violence.”

Criticism of Duke’s response

Several students expressed frustration at the timeliness of the response from the University and wished that clearer communication was delivered while the situation was unfolding. 

Alert Carolina first sent out a notification about an “armed and dangerous person on or near campus” at 1:03 p.m. on Monday. 

Later in the day, Duke Today, a website produced by the University, announced that it stopped bus service to UNC and urged people to stay away from the UNC campus. The article was published at least by 2:51 p.m., when Russell Thompson, Duke's interim vice president of operations, sent an identical email to select Duke administrators and staff.

No direct communication to students was made until 4:06 p.m., when Duke Alert sent out its first alert stating that there was “[n]o threat on Duke's campus” with a link to the Duke Today article, over three hours after the first report from Alert Carolina. At 4:14 p.m., Alert Carolina issued an all clear, and at 4:32 p.m., Duke Alert announced that UNC had issued its all-clear. 

The University did not respond to a request for comment about when bus services stopped between campuses and the timing of the Duke Today article to the Duke Alerts. 

Similar to Jennings, sophomore Mitsuki Uehara got word of the event by text message from her sister, who graduated from UNC in May. Uehara was “shocked and scared” to hear about the shootings, even if she did not personally feel concerned for her safety at the time.

Throughout her busy day of classes, Uehara did not hear more information about the shooting after her sister’s text, nor did she feel like “a lot of people around [her] were talking about it either.”

Jennings added that she heard no correspondence from the University until after she took a 20- to 25-minute bike ride home from Sanford, and wished she knew earlier “that many of [her] friends were in a scary situation.”

Uehara agreed that Duke should have made an announcement earlier.

“I was running around from class to class, and if I hadn’t got the text or if I hadn’t checked my email, I probably wouldn’t have known until the end of the day,” she said. “I wish that Duke had made it more common knowledge.”

Similarly, Wells called the University’s communication “very disappointing” and expected “our institutions to do more.”

“They are our neighbors. They are our friends and family,” Wells said. “No one knew really what was going on … Duke should have said something or given us something in general instead of having us in the dark.”

Amy Guan | Senior Editor

Amy Guan is a Pratt senior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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Michelle Brown | Associate News Editor

Michelle Brown is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Ishita Vaid | Associate News Editor

Ishita Vaid is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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