CHAPEL HILL, N.C. September 15, 2023 Sixteen days after a professor was shot and killed by a student, UNC-Chapel Hill went into lockdown again Wednesday following reports of an armed person on campus.
The university sent an alert to students and faculty at 12:55 p.m. indicating an “armed, dangerous person” was seen on or near campus, reports WSOC. People were told to go inside and avoid windows. Students shared on social media that they were sheltering in place as alarms were heard across campus.
Chapel Hill Police arrested 27-year-old Mickel Deonte Harris in a neighborhood north of campus around 2:45 p.m. A news release from police said Harris was wanted for “outstanding warrants related to an assault on Sept. 5” and in connection to “an incident on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus earlier [Wednesday] afternoon.”
UNC Police Chief Brian James said Harris is suspected of confronting an employee at Alpine Bagel Cafe, a restaurant in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union, and threatening the employee with a firearm. He then fled the scene in a vehicle.
Student Allie Agnoli told AP she was sitting with her roommate in a booth at the restaurant when a man started yelling at the cashier and waving a gun. Students ran for the exits and she and her roommate hid under a table. Agnoli said the female cashier yelled at the man to put the gun away and he exited the building without firing any shots. She then called 911.
At 2:10 p.m., an all-clear was given and the campus community was told they could resume normal activities but that classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the message went out before the suspect was captured because police had confirmed he was no longer on campus.
“We did a number of sweeps on the grounds of campus, the outer perimeter and we had assurance that the suspect was not on campus,” said James.
Guskiewicz acknowledged the emotions of a second lockdown in just over two weeks and emphasized the university’s gun policies.
“Thankfully, no one was injured, but imagine the stress, the trauma and the anxiety that a second lockdown in 16 days has caused for our students, our faculty and our staff,” he said. “I want to be clear: Guns are prohibited on our campus and every campus across the state of North Carolina.”
Guskiewicz also addressed criticism from students claiming the university provided sporadic and undetailed information during the three-hour lockdown back on Aug. 28.
“We heard that many of the community members wanted to have more frequent updates through different means of communication, and so we acted on that already and we were able to put that into play today, so that is one of the things that we’ve learned,” he said. “We will learn from today as well. We’re going to do everything possible to reassure everyone that visits this campus — lives, learns and works here — that this is a safe place to be.”
Law student Jason Naulty told USA Today that Wednesday’s lockdown brought him back to the Aug. 28 lockdown as he was in the same classroom during both incidents. He and his peers thought there may have been a glitch in the emergency alert system since the alert was sent around the same time as the last one, he said.
“Thankfully no one was hurt or anything. I think my general feeling after today is just more frustration than anything,” he said. “Today it was just the palpable sense of disbelief really.”
Sophomore Avery Bales told WFAE she was also in class when she received the alert.
“I keep my anxiety pills in my bag,” she said. “So I just immediately grabbed my anxiety pill before the panic attack started. That is the first thing I do, and I did last time as well.”
Bales said she felt her classmates were desensitized to the alert after having just experienced a lockdown two weeks ago.
“People were laughing and talking,” she said. “I just think it’s crazy that that’s how people act on a lockdown now.”
Assistant teaching professor Nicole Berland told WFAE she was leading a class of mostly freshman and first-year transfer students when the alert sounded.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, not again.’ It was the same group of students in the same class that I had during the last lockdown,” she said. “They’ve been here less than a month and they’ve had two lockdowns. It has really interrupted their education. I feel bad for them because this is not what college was like when I was in college, and now it’s what college is like for them.”