COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Three weeks after an apparent murder-suicide on the Columbus State University main campus, university officials are talking about policy changes brought about by the tragedy.
In the aftermath of the August 18 murder-suicide, Columbus State University officials determined there were some issues with the way students, faculty, and staff were notified of threats or incidents on campus.
CSU uses a system called Cougar Alert for threats ranging from a potential active shooter to incoming bad weather.
CSU Police Chief Laura Bennett says the new goal is quicker alerts with more specific calls to action.
“I think the biggest takeaway is getting those alerts out faster for notification purposes, even though, you know, we knew that the threat was contained,” Bennett said. “That doesn’t stop people from being curious and wanting to know. And I think we could have gotten that up much sooner.”
The shooting involved two students near the Lenoir Hall annex. A woman was shot to death in her car and a man was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound just outside the vehicle.
The incident happened around 10 a.m. By 11, media outlets were reporting the apparent murder-suicide, citing the Muscogee County Coroner’s Office as a source. The first Cougar Alert notice went out at 11:11 a.m. It advised students of a gun-related incident on campus with no ongoing threat.
One takeaway is the CSU system was tied into the National Weather Service System. Any weather notification issued by the weather service hit the CSU system. That generated an email, text alert, and phone call.
Bennett says there will be fewer weather-related alerts.
“Our thoughts behind this is not to oversaturate with too many weather warnings and stick to things that are very specific,” Bennett said.
And the Cougar Alerts will have clear instructions for those on the receiving end.
“And they will get directions such as evacuate, shelter in place, secure in place, avoid an area,” the chief said. “And when that’s done, they will receive an all-clear.”
What the first officers observed on the murder-suicide crime scene and subsequent investigation led CSU officials to handle the Cougar Alert in the manner they did.
“Had we thought there was an ongoing threat, the response and reaction would have been totally different,” Bennett said.
During the after-action review of the handling of the murder-suicide, Bennett says there were some things that were handled well.
“There were a lot of things that worked very well,” Bennett said. “Thank you to my partners with the Columbus Police Department and the GBI. They were great assets. I think that that went very well. I think that our counseling services and our Create Care team jumped in with everything they had to our students, faculty, and staff.”
The GBI is still investigating the incident and has yet to issue a final report.