It was an unusually dreary morning Tues. Feb. 10. I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my reflection, glumly reminding myself that my hair would never be half as good as One Direction's Zayn Malik's. You could almost inhale the caffeine as my fellow students and I prepared for the humdrum monotony of lectures, quizzes, and — gasp — exams.
And then it happened. School officials sent out a Cougar Alert declaring that a bomb had been found on the College of Charleston campus.
After I read the email, it took me a couple of seconds to realize what it actually said. Wait ... so ... what? I checked it again, confident that a mistake had been made, that a bomb hadn't been found, that it was probably just some threat, a stupid prank by some moron who didn't feel like taking an exam that day.
And so I read it again, assuring myself it was a meaningless warning, only to see that, once again, an actual bomb had been found on campus. Afterward, several calls came in via Cougar Alert — there must've been a dozen — noting that there was not, in fact, a bomb, but instead a "credible" threat.
The nature of some of these calls was a bit odd to say the least. Half of the time, I'd pick up and there'd be nothing, just silence, like the voice of the college itself was missing, lost amongst all the chaos and uncertainty. The calls instructed students on campus to await evacuation commands and told those not on campus to "stay away from the area." Unfortunately, the calls were vague as to what the "area" actually was. Was it a specific set of buildings or the campus as a whole? I was expecting an email, a tweet, something that would give any updates, as well as instructions on whether or not to stay off campus or if I would be excused if I didn't attend class. Unsure of what to do, I began to seek more info.
In the absence of any other news from the college, I turned to a rather tasteless source: Yik Yak. There the students were in a fit. Most were stuck in the same situation I was in — they were confused. While some asked questions or panicked, others joked about the situation. There was also a mixed bag of rumors, with some students claiming that all classes were canceled, while others spread rumors about a shooter on campus — a rumor that we later learned was actually closer to the truth than school officials had initially led us to believe.
As I continued scouring social media, I saw new details emerge. There were pictures of cops with assault rifles and bomb robots. I also noticed some kind of underlying subtext to the college's official tweets. I'm honestly unable to describe it. It seemed as if CofC officials were just as clueless as the students.
I texted my roommates, but they also weren't sure of what was going on. My sister advised me not to go to class, as she and her classmates had evacuated, with most students standing across St. Philip Street awaiting further instruction. But then the college contradicted itself, sending out both an email and a tweet telling students who were "sheltered in place" to stay put. Oddly enough, some police officers began ticketing cars within blocked-off areas.
If I'm being honest, my main concern that morning was whether we still needed to attend class, not my safety. I was certain the threat was a hoax. I emailed both of my Tuesday professors asking if we still had to come in. One said that he had received mixed instructions and wasn't sure what was going on. He also told me not to come to class if I was uncomfortable. My other teacher swiftly canceled class.
It wasn't until later in the afternoon that President Glenn McConnell sent a definitive email stating the aforementioned buildings and surrounding areas were shut down and for students not to attend class there, but he also claimed classes in other buildings were still on schedule, something that honestly perplexed me. Needless to say, the vast majority of students — from what I observed — didn't go to class at all.
Even after reading the original Cougar Alerts, it occurred to me — as well as many others — that there would be nothing to the threat, that it was a false alarm. I knew, however, that even the slightest chance of a bomb on our campus would be enough for the school to take serious action. I also knew that how the school handled a hoax would speak volumes about how they would handle a real threat, which, judging by this case, would be poorly.
As it stands now, I can't help but feel as if the school's poor miscommunication exacerbated things. But only time will tell if CofC officials can actually learn from this experience or if they'll send mixed messages again.