Updated as of 10:09 p.m. on Sept. 13 to include video of UNC student reactions.
For the second time in roughly two weeks, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill went on lockdown because of reports of an armed and dangerous individual.
On Sept. 13, the Alert Carolina system at UNC Chapel Hill reported an individual with a weapon on campus. UNC police later reported the incident to have happened at Alpine Bagel Cafe in the UNC student union just before 1 p.m. The lockdown lasted over an hour.
Police report that the suspect, 27-year-old Mickel Deonte Harris from Durham, is currently in custody for the incident. Harris, a “disgruntled boyfriend” of a cafe employee, reportedly started a verbal argument before revealing and waving around a firearm. He had additional, outstanding warrants related to an assault on Sept. 5.
UNC Alert Carolina sent an all-clear update at 2:13 p.m. Nobody was injured or killed.
According to UNC graduate student Josh Romero, March for Our Lives UNC — a student-led organization that advocates for gun control legislation — demonstrated on campus the day of the lockdown.
“It’s infuriating,” Romero said. “As a student, yes, but just as a human being that we continue to allow these incidents with gun violence and threats to happen and affect people’s lives.”
Romero said these past couple weeks were not his first experiences with gun violence on school grounds. Growing up in South Florida, the Parkland shooting of 2018 happened very close to his home while he was an undergraduate at UNC.
“We were yelling and screaming about the same things that are now affecting our campus,” Romero said. “It’s really really sad, as a medical student now — I was an undergrad here at the time — yelling about the same things and seeing that something that was a little bit more distant has infiltrated our campus, and now not only once, but two times in the past 16 days.”
While Romero said that while proactive measures, such as having locks on classrooms, utilizing access into buildings and creating a culture where guns aren’t welcome on campus would be beneficial, he said more permanent solutions — in the form of increased gun control legislation — need to come down from the state and federal governments.
“You can only plan so much for something like this,” Romero said. “The idea is that you would put legislation and policies in place that would hope to prevent it.”
Kai Swanson, Elon professor of cinema and television arts, attended UNC Chapel Hill for their undergraduate degree and graduated in 2016. Unfortunately, Swanson said they were not a stranger to lockdown experiences as a student, and is also a proponent of better gun control legislation.
“My heart and concerns go out to the undergraduates, graduate staff, faculty and all other affiliates at UNC Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill community,” Swanson said. “My hope is that this will be a signal that there needs to be more policies put into place — not just to the state of North Carolina — but across the United States, that take into consideration how much access to guns and other weapons can cause a lot of pain, anxiety and loss in our communities.”
Romero said while he was at his off-campus apartment at the time of the lockdown, he had friends on campus who immediately began texting in GroupMe chats trying to figure out where the safest, locked classrooms are located on campus.
“It’s sad that that’s even a thing or a discussion that people have to talk about,” Romero said. “I would be surprised if you heard any student in the United States say that they feel safe in schools in America.”
UNC Freshman Ben Diasio said he was on campus at Wilson Library at the time of the lockdown alert — filling out a university response survey regarding the prior firearm lockdown from two weeks ago.
“Ultimately, I never expected to see cop cars flying by and hear screams — while I was filling out a feedback form for another shooting,” Diasio.
According to Elon professor of sociology Thomas Arcaro, he caught wind of Wednesday’s UNC lockdown just before starting his afternoon sociology class. He said he feels it is important to talk about incidents as they happen, and changed his lesson plan to talk about it in class.
As an adult in the Elon community, a parent of a first-year college student and a colleague to many UNC faculty members, Arcaro said he tries to discuss gun violence in the classroom, but can’t imagine what the Elon community would do if it experienced a major threat.
“I don't even want to psychologically go there. As a parent, as a faculty person, as a person interacting with students all day, that horror, I hope never visits us on this campus,” Arcaro said. “The fact is that we have to be vigilant and we have to be prepared. We have to be sober to those realities. It's not fun.”
Rissa Trachman, Elon professor of anthropology, said she was just as surprised to hear about this lockdown as she was for the one 16 days ago.
“I'm shocked. I was shocked the first time. I'm shocked today to hear about this happening again,” Trachman said.
Trachman said that having personal and professional connections to UNC, as well as being so close to Chapel Hill in proximity, are grounds for constant reminders of these types of gun violence.
“These events happen, and then after some time goes by, then we tend to forget about them. And then another one comes up and then we get nervous again,” Trachman said. “It's a layer of stress that nobody needs in a classroom. We're already doing a really difficult job, but a very rewarding job. We don't need to make it difficult in a way that's not rewarding, just because of the violence.”
Trachman, who has been teaching at Elon for 15 years, said incidents involving armed individuals serve as a constant reminder to remain vigilant.
“There already is some talk on campus about thinking about gun violence and thinking about these kinds of things and the measures that we take in terms of ‘What do we do in a lockdown situation? What do we do if there's an active shooter?’” Trachman said. “That's good discussion, because we need to refresh our memories.”
Though Trachman is reluctant to say she can confidently keep everyone safe, she said she feels like she has a pretty good idea of what the protocol is in the event that something at Elon were to happen.
Elon professor of art history Evan Gatti agreed.
“It feels like another day in the U.S.,” Gatti said. “There's that tension between feeling like ‘This hasn't happened to me, but it's happening to people you love and know,’ and also happens all the time and you can get a little numb to it. … It feels familiar and strange at the same time.”
Gatti also said they are worried about not being prepared enough to look out for or protect their students in the event that anything were to happen at Elon. Gatti's husband being a faculty member at UNC, they said they have heard a lot of feedback from students regarding dangerous individuals.
“The one thing I did hear at UNC that really stuck with me, is a lot of students and graduate students said their faculty did not know what to do,” Gatti said. “And I get that because I don't know that I would know exactly what to do here. … I feel like there was a sense that students didn't feel that their faculty had their backs, and I get that, and I don't want to be that problem.”
After receiving a text from a colleague asking if their husband was safe, Gatti said they reached out to their husband but immediately went to class — leaving them to think about whether the large windows of their first-floor classroom in Linder Hall would be an advantage or disadvantage for students if an armed assailant were to step foot on campus.
As a parent of a first-year college student, Gatti said they couldn’t imagine what it was like to have a child at UNC this academic year.
“I know my brain can't quite fathom it,” Gatti said. “I know a lot of people whose kids go there. I sent my husband's number to one of them because I just thought she might like to know that she has a number of an adult on campus if she needed one.”
Moving forward, Gatti said they would be more proactive about having discussions with their colleagues about protocol and procedure, particularly in smaller department meetings where they can hold a more intimate conversation.
Diasio also said that schools nationwide desperately need increased policy and legislation.
“Something. Anything. Please. That’s all we’re asking for here,” Diasio said. “There are common sense things that can be done by our politicians like background checks, red flag laws — but most certainly what politicians should not be doing is making it easier to obtain firearms. That’s what they’ve done recently with pistol permit law.”
In addition to schools, Romero said the students themselves have been and are begging for change.
“How many people, how many lives is it going to take before something is done about it that is meaningful and that actually changes something,” Romero said. “How do you go from telling someone that they should be fearful for their life, to going right back into the classroom and trying to learn. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Mason Willett contributed to the reporting of this story.