Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Public safety

Police call off search for possible gunman at USF

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TAMPA — Two weeks after a gunman rampaged through neighborhoods near the University of South Florida, raping and assaulting women before dying in a shootout with authorities, a report of an armed man on campus prompted lockdowns and evacuations Friday.

This scare ended peacefully, with police calling off the search after failing to find anyone matching the gunman's description. No shots were fired, and no one was injured. By the day's end, it was unclear if there ever actually was a gunman.

About 1:40 p.m., USF police got a call about a man who was possibly armed jumping over a fence at the USF Health complex, USF police spokeswoman Lt. Charlotte Domingo said. The man, who was wearing a dark blue shirt and khaki shorts, appeared to drop a gun, pick it up and then continue running, police were told.

USF and Tampa police responded and evacuated the health complex, which includes the college of nursing and medical school.

Just after 3 p.m., police officers and dogs were searching every building in the 350,000-square-foot complex while students, workers and patients waited outside. By 3:45 p.m., authorities had cleared the complex and people headed back inside.

Hospitals on campus were not evacuated, but the on-campus Shriners Hospital for Children was put on lockdown.

USF put out this alert to students: "Armed intruder near USF Health (MDC) area. Remain alert. Avoid area. Follow police instructions."

Everyone, including those who typically work in cubicles, spent some time locked in offices Friday afternoon, said Malita Velasquez, who works at the College of Nursing. She said they had gotten an alert only saying there was a report of a gunman nearby.

Sun Chen, 23, who does information technology work for USF, was in a class working with medical students in the Center for Advance Critical Learning when news about the gunman broke.

"We just locked the doors and just continued our activity," Chen said.

Fifteen minutes later, a police officer arrived and told them to get out.

"We just had to leave," Chen said, standing outside the building. "Students were pretty calm. Everything was pretty calm."

Jeremy Kudrna, a 23-year-old master's student in medical sciences, was in a review session when word of the armed intruder spread about 2 p.m.

Although doors were supposed to lock electronically, Kudrna said their classroom's did not until about 3 p.m., so students took chairs and piled them against the doors.

About 3:40 p.m., he said the doors unlocked and students were able to leave. They were escorted by police officers with hands on their guns.

"It was very unnerving," Kudrna said.

Just before 5 p.m., USF police announced they were ending the search.

Friday's incident came two weeks to the day after Charlie "Chris" Bates, 24, raped four women, assaulted another, and held a group of partygoers hostage before leaving, according to police. Bates eventually stole a friend's car and was trailed by law enforcement to eastern Hillsborough County. He died in a shootout with Tampa police officers after a chase ended in front of a Waffle House just north of Interstate 4.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Jamal Thalji, Jodie Tillman, and Jimmy Guerts contributed to this report.

     
 
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