Over the weekend, students at the College were in the midst of Doghead, an annual all-night event that starts Friday evening and ends Saturday at sunrise. In the early morning of Saturday, Mar. 11, the Doghead festivities came to a halt when three people got into an altercation, and one person pulled out a gun and fired two rounds into a wall at the Alfond Senior Apartments. The shooting occurred around 1:30 a.m. At 2:21 a.m., students received an email from Interim Dean of the College Barbara Moore. Prior to Moore’s email, information traveled only from student to student, with no official word from the school, except for an email from Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri `25 asking students to shelter in place. Because nobody knew what had happened, many people were speculating about the situation, and some thought that somebody had been shot in the chest.
“There was a lot of confusion going around… I got locked in Heights. That’s when people finally started being like ‘lockdown the doors.’ Everyone was kind of freaking out, my girlfriend was having a major panic attack,” Thapa Chhetri said. “We all knew there were gunshots and we were hearing ‘this person got shot a lot in the chest and there’s a lot of blood.’ And we all were thinking there was actually an active shooter that was going to do some mass shootings. So I texted the [SGA Executive Board] and they were like yeah, send it out. People were confused and lost and scared, I thought it was important to have something out there.”
Zainab Karim `23 was in the vicinity of the incident when it happened and expressed having a similar reaction to Thapa Chhetri.
“We came into the hallway where the shooting happened and there was a guy outside of room 111 yelling at us and telling us to turn around and lock ourselves in a room,” Karim said. “My friends and I are turning around and going down the stairs with a hoard of people, and my friend literally shakes me and is like, ‘Zainab! That guy is literally bleeding down his face.’ I turn around and this guy’s face is covered in blood. We later realized that guy was the shooter, and we all started running out of the apartment and headed to AMS to lock down.”
Many students who left the senior apartments went to nearby dormitories, such as Heights, AMS, and Hillside. However, leaving the apartments became stressful for students who did not reside in nearby dorms, because after 1 a.m., students lose card access to dorms that are not their own. This led to students wandering around campus until someone let them into a building.
“We got the call on Mar. 11 at approximately 1:30. We actually had multiple 911 calls. We received calls from centers all over the country because students were calling their parents, and their parents were calling 911, and those 911 centers were calling our dispatch centers. So it was very busy for us at a time there,” Interim Chief of Police William Bonney said.
Bonney stated that by the time his officers entered the scene, the shooter, twenty-four-year-old Waterville local Andrew Gifford, had been subdued and was being treated for a head wound by the College’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS). According to President David A. Greene’s email to the student body, at least one student was involved in disarming Gifford.
“We were working at that point directly with Colby security. And we were consulting with senior staff by that point as well… we did make a decision to leave the lockdown in place because we were uncertain where the other two gentlemen were,” Bonney said. “We believed they had probably fled the campus but we couldn’t guarantee that had happened. So out of concern for the safety of the students we did have a conversation and decided it would be safest to leave the lockdown in place until we were sure that those folks had left campus.”
The Waterville Police Department has identified but has not yet been able to make contact with the two Waterville locals that had engaged in the initial altercation with Gifford.
“I am planning on setting up a meeting with the senior staff at Colby to talk about what we did well and what we could do better on both sides of that equation,” Bonney said.
Later in the day on Saturday, the deans organized various community support groups and counseling sessions for students. Associate Dean and Director of the Pugh Center for Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Kimberly Walton-Trajkovski held a few processing circles in the Pugh Center on both Saturday and Sunday.
“This Saturday after the shots were fired… Dr. Alfonso Ortego was here in the Pugh Center from 1 to 3 p.m. We got two processing circles here on Sunday, one from 1–2:30, and another from 3–4,” she said. “That was facilitated by Dr. R.J. Reed in the counseling center, and again just gave students the opportunity to be together, even if they didn’t have anything to say just to be in community with one another if they didn’t want to be alone. Or to just give students an opportunity to express what’s on their mind.”
On the evening of Mar. 12, in place of their regularly scheduled meetings, SGA provided a space for members of the community to reflect and check in with each other about the incident. Also present at the meeting were Meg Hatch, Associate Dean of the Student Experience and Title IX Coordinator, and Jon-Mark Olivier, Director of Community Values, Conflict Resolution, and Restorative Practice. Throughout the meeting, students expressed their strong dissatisfaction with Administration’s communication during and after the incident. Students were sheltering in place, believing there was an active shooter on campus for about forty-five minutes before the first notification from the school came in, and it was even longer before students were made aware that the situation was contained. The emergency communications system was not activated, and nobody received notifications from Blackboard Connect Emergency Notification System, which is the subscription-based security system they have in place for mass communication.
Unfortunately, Hatch and Olivier did not have the answers students were looking for at the time. On the evening of Mar. 13, the Dean’s office hosted a conversation during which students could express their concerns to a panel of administrators led by Moore. Many students who attended the SGA meeting were present at the meeting with the deans.
“I was mainly hoping to learn what specific steps the Administration went through following the shooting and why there was no use of the emergency response system,” Henry Jacques `24 said. “I went in assuming that they would not have a full timeline of the morning or answers to every question, but expecting them to be able to answer any question in regards to the existing protocols that were in place when the situation occurred.” Some of the students printed out a list of the six questions that were most prominent at the SGA meeting to get answered by the deans.
“On the whole, I felt the administrators did not answer questions well. Some questions could reasonably not have a definitive answer at the time. However, many questions in regards to previous emergency responses, procedures currently in place, and similar matters which should have been answerable were responded to with a confusing lack of certainty,” Jacques said. “Most attempts by the Administration to communicate the policies or hierarchy behind Colby’s emergency response plan were a struggle. In some cases, the Deans’ responses felt dismissive of the experiences students had been through.”
These sentiments were echoed by students during the meeting itself. The same questions were asked multiple times. The deans had to be asked to directly answer the questions, even if it meant them admitting that they did not know the answer. After the question was repeated multiple times, Moore finally admitted that she did not know why the emergency communications system had not been triggered after the incident.
“I think it is possible that the meeting made students’ concerns worse. It was hard to escape the feeling that the Deans did not adequately prepare to answer questions. At worst, it felt as if they themselves did not fully know how Colby operates in an emergency,” Jacques said. “Many older students were especially frustrated at the lack of improvements in Colby’s response this past weekend in comparison to a similar event in the fall of 2020. The absence of President Greene from the event did not help matters.”
“I think the timeline of events on Saturday morning indicated two things: that the emergency response at the school is effective, but that the communication protocols need to be updated swiftly. In terms of the emergency response itself, CER did an incredible job, as did Security,” Class Dean of Juniors and Seniors Sonnet Graham said. “However, we need faster campus-wide alert systems for situations like the one on Saturday night. Our communications won’t be able to eradicate violence, but more sophisticated software in the hands of Security could alleviate some of the fear and anxiety that accompanies shelter-in-place orders.”
Two years ago, on August 25th, 2020, there was an incident on College Avenue in Waterville involving gunshots to which the police quickly responded. A couple of students from the College heard that there were shots fired, and word quickly spread to Orientation Leaders (OLs) and Community Advisors (CAs) on campus.
“[The incident] ended up spreading through the ranks of orientation leaders and going through telephone until everyone thought there was an active shooting on campus, when in fact it was an event that had already happened and what completely contained forty minutes ago,” said Joseph Savage `22, who was one of the CAs of Woodman at the time.
“Colby security knew about this incident when it happened, and they knew it wasn’t a problem. But students started panicking… we told our residents to stay inside and get into a room if they could until we had information and gave them what we knew. We didn’t get any email for over an hour from security, even though within a couple minutes they already knew that students were panicking and had a good idea of what was going on and why it was happening,” Savage said.
Other CAs and OLs reported being afraid for their lives, thinking that a shooter was actively going after students on the campus, and they spread the information they were given by other students to make sure everyone on campus stayed safe. An hour after students were told to stay inside, however, Savage stated that the CAs were reprimanded by former Assistant Vice President for Student Life Jess Manno for their reactions.
This response received strong backlash from the CAs, a few of whom had been personally impacted by mass shootings.
“We did what we knew we had to do with the information we had. And they didn’t tell us anything,” Savage said.
The CAs were then required to participate in active shooter training, which consisted of a half-an-hour-long talk with Head of Security Bob Williams.
“The information I remember him telling us is that shootings can happen really quickly, and they can often be over before emergency services even respond. You need to act really quickly and you need to listen for sounds of gunshots and stuff like that,” Savage said. “And then he added that you might not hear that, so you need to quickly get inside, get away, and stay safe. So, several CAs asked, well what were we supposed to do differently than what we had? He said what you should do is stop and listen for gunshots because you’d hear that if there was a shooting.”
Savage questioned why College security did not inform people sooner that the shooting on College Avenue was contained and did not pose a threat to the College community.
“The security has connections to Waterville PD. They should be able to tell people about incidences in the area that aren’t a risk so that people are aware and they don’t just spread misinformation… We did everything by the book with what we had and now you’re telling us that we’re wrong and spreading misinformation?” Savage said.
In response, they were told multiple times that the College was not required to notify students of incidents that they do not deem to be an immediate threat to the College community. In a follow–up email to the CAs, Manno wrote about what would have happened if the College had thought that the shooting was a campus-wide emergency.
In addition, on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2020, the Waterville Fire Department responded to a fire on Runnal’s Hills on the College’s campus. Caleb Richardson `23 witnessed the fire department’s response to the incident and got the opportunity to speak to a few of them.
“I got asked by one of the firefighters that I started talking to, he asked don’t you guys have an emergency alert system? And I said yeah, and he said well why wasn’t it triggered? I thought it was a good question,” he said.
When the two shots were fired at the Alfond Senior Apartments on Saturday, Mar. 11, none of those emergency protocols were triggered either. The Colby Echo reached out to Greene for a comment on the emergency protocols.
“We have emergency protocols for incidents like the one that occurred. We also have training sessions to help key staff understand and be prepared to implement the protocols. We have already started a rigorous review of where the protocols were followed and where we tell short and why. We are also reviewing whether the protocols themselves need to be changed in any way… I expect to report back to the community on the initial findings of that review not long after everyone returns from spring break. These are very challenging moments and they demand that many individuals follow the protocols while also adapting to an uncertain situation in real-time. We have to be at our very best in these moments, and there are many elements of the response on Saturday morning that showed how the community was at its best. But there are areas where we need to do better as well and we will systematically identify them and report to the community on those findings and plans for addressing the issues,” he wrote.
After receiving information from the Administration, some faculty members have made their classes this week optional to give students time to process the events.
“Individuals vary widely in the ways they process trauma and in their experiences of past traumas. Because of these individualized responses, robust access to counseling services is necessary. Leniency with midterm deadlines would be incredibly helpful, as it can be very difficult to focus in the aftermath of violence,” Graham said.
As Greene said in his email to the student body, the campus was fortunate enough to not suffer any serious injuries or fatalities during this incident.
“I feel awful for the students and the parents that had to go through that, obviously it’s very traumatic for a parent to, at 1:30 in the morning, be worried that their child is in a shooting is awful,” said Bonney. “So I feel terrible for those parents, I feel terrible for you guys who had to experience that, and my most important thing that I want the Colby students to know is that your safety is our top priority. That is number one for us. We do not want Colby students being hurt on their campus, it’s supposed to be a safe place and we want to make sure that’s the case.”
We hope that everyone on campus is taking the time they need to recover after Saturday night. If anyone has narratives they would like to share about their experience, email the Echo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Mahika Gupta `23