Sting Break interrupted by gun scare

Photo courtesy of GT Communications

Students attending the annual Sting Break event on March 30 were briefly evacuated from Tech Square during what many thought was an active shooter incident.

According to a retroactive statement issued by GTPD, the police received a report of an armed person near the Georgia Tech Hotel at 8:13 p.m. during Sting Break. GTPD promptly detained the person and determined that he was not armed but just carrying a cell phone in “a manner that led others to believe it was a weapon.”

At roughly the same time, students began bolting out of the area, with shouts of “armed shooter” and “gun” travelling through the crowd. The area was quickly pedestrian-free, though it took more time to evacuate those who were on and in line for rides.

Word of the incident spread through social media, with reports ranging from an armed person being arrested to shots having been fired and bomb threats being made. Even as people rushed from Tech Square, it was unclear to many what was actually happening.

“I’m about to give my ticket to a vendor because I had gotten there a few minutes before all of this started, but I see people sprinting towards me and then I see two GTPD officers, who are making people run away and screaming at everyone to move towards campus,” said Urvi Narang, fifth-year EE. “I start running away and lose my friends, and then while I’m running, I hear people screaming ‘active shooter, active shooter!’ So I start running even faster and these scary thoughts ran through my mind.”

“I ran all the way to Van Leer and I guess by then everything had been resolved and the suspect had been [apprehended], but me and my friends had been too busy running for our lives to even look back to see the state of Sting Break,” Narang said. “I read [later] that Sting Break was back on but that they were checking cars for bombs or something. I don’t know if any of that was true but it was unnerving that anyone would think of going back there.”

The first official Institute comments were issued through GTPD’s Twitter account at 9:30 p.m., with a tweet indicating that reports of an armed person were unfounded but that a person of interest was in custody; a clarification tweeted at 10:37 p.m. stated that the person of interest was detained until video evidence confirmed that he was not armed.

Students on social media voiced concerns regarding the lack of a Georgia Tech Emergency Notification System (GTENS) alert, given the degree of misinformation and confusion surrounding the situation.

“They probably should have used it to tell everyone that there was no danger since it became such a widespread rumor,” said /u/EForReal12 in a Reddit thread on the subject.

“We know now that there was no shooter, but there was a 10–20 minute lag (at least) between when masses of people were shooed out of Tech Square and when an official GTPD source publicly confirmed anything about the situation,” said /u/tictacker in the
same thread.

Several others in the thread, however, agreed that a GTENS alert would not have been required in this particular situation. GTPD, in its retroactive statement posted on social media, indicated that the lack of an armed person — and thus a present danger to campus — as well as the speed with which the incident was resolved rendered a GTENS alert unnecessary.

SCPC had worked with GTPD prior to the event to ensure that an emergency plan was in place.

“During the event, there were at least eight GTPD officers there for protection and to be there for emergency situations,” said Katie Hampton, third-year BA and Festivals Chair for SCPC. “As soon as GTPD contained the situation,  we waited for them to give the all clear for us to allow people back in, so as soon as GTPD told us we could let people back in we did. We waited to post on social media until GTPD posted their official post, as only GTPD actually knew what had happened.”

“We also had the evacuation plan for if severe weather were to occur, and we enacted that at the end of Sting Break,” Hampton said.

GTPD was unable to be reached for comment.