The first day of class at ETSU was interrupted by a suspected threat on campus. At approximately 12:15 p.m. on Monday, warning sirens alerted the campus of an assault on campus at the D.P. Culp construction site and to take shelter.
“The lockdown message came up on the screen, and we were just sitting there, and my teacher said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I think there’s a tornado,'” said ETSU student Cameron Walker. “Then [the alert] popped up.”
A call was made to emergency dispatch around 11:47 a.m. about the threat, and the all-clear was given approximately one hour later when the suspect was apprehended, according to ETSU Chief of Public Safety Nicole Collins.
The alert was issued due to a reported altercation between contractor employees at the construction site. One worker then left the scene and made a reference to allegedly having a weapon, according to ETSU Chief Communications Officer Joe Smith in a press conference on Monday.
“It’s important to note that during this entire event no gun shots were fired,” Smith said. “I think that was reported some places.”
The suspect, Alexander Coss, was apprehended off campus in a collaboration between ETSU public safety and the Johnson City Police Department, Collins said. He was charged by the ETSU public safety department with assault, and no weapon has been found at this time.
In an update on Tuesday, the Johnson City Press reported that police say Coss hit his coworker with a shovel and proceeded to pull out and point a black pistol at another coworker.
In a statement to the campus, ETSU President Brian Noland thanked the community for cooperating throughout the hour and explained that the emergency alert was made “out of caution.”
“I am grateful to each member of our campus and local law enforcement teams for their quick response today to ensure the safety of the ETSU community,” he wrote. “Today’s event was a reminder of the importance of being informed on how each of us should respond during an emergency situation.”
ETSU student Calah Woods was with a student organization on the Quad for the Welcome Back Block Party at the time of the siren.
“It was just a normal day … and then all of a sudden the alarm goes off,” student Calah Woods said.
She said she believes students thought the alert was a routinely-scheduled drill at first, noting that the siren was the first sound, not the message.
“I looked around, and everyone literally scattered,” she said. “Especially when they said it was [an assault,] it was like people started freaking out a little more. There were still people walking around, which is kinda scary. I felt very scared for them also.”
Woods said ETSU handled the situation well in her opinion.
Four messages were sent to the campus through email, text and pop-up alerts on campus computers through the hour.
The first message was about the threat and to take shelter. Next, the alert stated that an assault had occurred at the construction site, and it was followed by a notice of the suspect description. The third stated no shots had been fired and the search was continuing.
Finally, the all-clear was given, stating that the suspect was in custody and campus would return to normal operation.
“You can hear that siren from anywhere, and they don’t just keep you in the dark — they send you those messages and emails,” Woods said.
The ETSU community can sign up for the campus alert system, GoldAlert, by going to https://www.getrave.com/login/etsu/. Additional information about emergency procedures and notifications can be found on the ETSU Campus Safety website. Additionally, the campus counseling center is available in Nell Dossett Hall on the third floor and can be reached by calling 423-439-4841.
“We encourage everyone if they have not enrolled in the alert system on Rave to do that, but they should be assured that their safety always comes first,” Smith said.