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University of Rhode Island lockdown lifted: Nerf gun found, but no gunman on campus

2:37 PM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
via CBS affiliate WPRI
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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) - A lockdown at the University of Rhode Island's Kingstown campus was lifted at 2:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon, about three hours after police first received a report of a gunman inside the school's Chafee Hall.

R.I. State Police Col. Steven O'Donnell told our sister station WPRI.com investigators believe there was never a gun or an active shooter, but he said they did recover a Nerf gun during a room-by-room search of Chafee Hall, although it wasn't clear whether that was related.

No injuries were reported, and no eyewitnesses said they saw or heard gunshots.

"There is no evidence at all to indicate there was a firearm on campus at any time, and there is no evidence to support that there was an active shooter at anytime," O'Donnell said shortly before the lockdown was lifted. "We want to make sure that's clear."

O'Donnell said state police are not calling the incident a hoax, but he suggested one person's initial concern that there was a shooter may have spread quickly, leading to the evacuation.

In response to the incident, URI canceled classes on the Kingston campus for the remainder of the day, all campus shuttles were stopped and RIPTA buses were diverted away from campus until further notice. URI said classes will resume Friday.

O'Donnell said the state police received a 9-1-1 call at 11:22 a.m. reporting that someone knocked on the door of a classroom in Chafee Hall and said: "I'm a good guy and I have a gun." Officers from the state police, campus police and South Kingstown Police Departments responded to the school.

Barbara van Sciver, the lecturer whose class was disrupted, told WPRI.com she screamed for her students to leave the building and they did so in an orderly manner. She said she heard lots of yelling but didn't see a gun.

URI activated its Emergency Operations Center in response to the incident and national news crews quickly zeroed in on the suburban campus in South County amid nationwide alarm over gun violence in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December.

Joshua Caulkins, a URI employee, told WPRI.com he arrived at URI's campus around noon Thursday and found roughly 150 students and staff members around Chafee Hall along with two police cars and about six security personnel.

"Everyone's just standing around," he said.

Caulkins said a woman told him she was inside a Chafee Hall classroom when a student stood up and said, "I'm a nice guy! I'm a nice guy!" The professor in the classroom then told everybody to get out.

Nobody outside Chafee Hall reported seeing or hearing any gunshots, Caulkins said.

Caulkins said he and other staff members were continuing to work inside with the doors to their offices closed. "It's calm - the area where I am is deserted," he said. "Everyone's pretty much left."

The father of a URI student told WPRI.com a female student in a classroom yelled out, "He has a gun!" The student told her father that point the teacher told the students to leave and it was "a stampede."

Ryan Cabral, president of URI's Humans vs. Zombies club, told WPRI.com Nerf guns are used in a well-known game played at the school that he described as an "extreme version of tag." He said he hoped his club had nothing to do with Thursday's gun scare, and police investigators said it may not have been related.

URI said its website's servers were struggling with "extraordinarily high volume" and was not loading properly. In order to deal with the problem, the school replaced it's homepage featuring the latest information on the situation. It is also getting updates out through @URINews and the school's Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee's office directed questions to the state police.

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