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Quick action helped UCF avert gun massacre. But it was close. (+video)

A 911 call by the gunman's roommate and the quick response of UCF campus police are credited with helping avert a massacre. But troubled students need to be identified far earlier, experts say.

By Staff writer / March 19, 2013

University of Central Florida police Chief Richard Beary, right, shows an example of the assault rifle found in the dorm room of James Oliver Seevakumaran, Monday, March 18, as UCF officials look on. Mr. Seevakumaran shot himself before unleashing his arsenal, thanks to quick action from his roommate and campus police.

Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP


Boulder, Colo.

Details are still emerging about the suicide and apparent massacre plot of James Oliver Seevakumaran, a student at the University of Central Florida.

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But it's clear that the situation could have been far worse.

Mr. Seevakumaran never carried out the plan found detailed in his room thanks in part, apparently, to his roommate's 911 call and the quick response of campus police early Monday. Instead, he turned his gun on himself. Police found a handgun, an assault weapon, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, improvised explosive devices, and plans that apparently involved getting students out into hallways via a fire alarm – which was set off – and then opening fire on them.

“It could have been a very bad day for everybody here,” UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said in a statement Tuesday. “All things considered, I think we were very blessed here at the University of Central Florida."

The near miss, however, still crystallizes many colleges' worst fear – a Virginia Tech-type shooting rampage. The incident is sparking debates about weapons on campus, safety procedures, and prevention tactics.

In the years since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, in which 32 students were killed and 17 wounded before the shooter killed himself, many campuses have focused heavily on emergency procedures, drills, and preventative intervention strategies. Some of that focus – like the quick communication and electronic alerts that students received to keep them informed about the situation – was on display at UCF.

But the most effective ways that institutions of higher education have found to prevent mass shootings may be in more targeted early interventions, say experts.

"The good news is the roommate called, and the police responded quickly, and luck went in the right direction, but it could very easily have gone the other way," says Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. "The question most of us have when incidents like this come to light is, could it have been caught earlier?"

One of the most prominent trends since the Virginia Tech shooting has been the development of threat-assessment and behavior-intervention teams, says Alison Kiss, executive director of The Clery Center for Security on Campus. Such teams typically bring multiple agencies and constituencies on a campus together to share information and discuss red flags, and whether an intervention might be needed for certain students. Virginia Tech, she notes, has been a leader in the field.

"Higher education brings a lot of resources to the table, but there are a lot of silos that exist," says Ms. Kiss, noting that when information is shared effectively, it can help institutions be aware of threats and avert dangerous situations, as well as simply get help to students who may need it.


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