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USF community voices concern over lack of emergency notification after weekend shooting

Benjamin Knox, 21, is accused of firing a gun on campus.
Benjamin Knox, 21, is accused of firing a gun on campus.
Published Oct. 13, 2015

TAMPA — A day after a University of South Florida football player was accused of firing a gun on campus, students wondered why the university didn't tell them about it sooner.

Though the shooting happened before 4 a.m. Sunday, many of the more than 5,000 students who live on the university's Tampa campus knew nothing of the incident until almost 12 hours later.

There were no emergency notifications sent out via the school's text messaging system. A full 16 hours had passed before the university posted a "community notification" about the incident to its social media pages.

Hours before that, the school issued a news release about the arrest of Benjamin Knox, 21, an offensive lineman on the USF football team, who is accused of shooting at a campus residence hall.

Chris Daniel, USF's assistant police chief, said Monday that no emergency notification was sent because officers who responded to the call had no indication of an immediate threat to the community.

"At that time, there was no ongoing threat that anybody could perceive," Daniel said. "We didn't send out a message because there was no threat we could verify without creating some undue panic."

Knox was released from jail Monday on $32,500 bail for charges of possessing or discharging a firearm on campus and shooting into an occupied dwelling.

An arrest affidavit states that he fired at least two shots from a Glock .45 ACP handgun about 3:52 a.m. Sunday on the west side of the "Holly D" residence hall.

A campus police officer reported hearing what sounded like gunshots at about that time in the north-central part of the campus, near the Marshall Student Center. At the same time, a student called in a report of what sounded like gunshots in the area of the Crescent Hill parking garage, followed by the sound of screeching tires.

Officers found no obvious crime scene when they arrived in the area. They began a floor-to-floor search of the garage, Daniel said. After about an hour and a half, they came across an empty cardboard box for .45 ACP ammunition lying on the ground next to a blue Dodge Charger, according to the arrest report. In the backseat, officers could see a black plastic Glock handgun box.

A check of the car's registration showed it belonged to Knox, who lives in the Holly D residence hall. He was arrested there about 10:30 a.m., jail records show. Detectives later retrieved surveillance video that showed Knox firing the gun as he walked along the east side of the parking garage, according to the report.

Word of the shooting spread Sunday afternoon as it was reported by local media. Sunday evening, the university posted its notification detailing the incident.

The wait spurred a series of comments from concerned students and their families on the university's Facebook page.

"Most schools would have gone on lockdown or at least notified students to stay indoors until they had him in custody," wrote Kathy Stewart Serocki, whose daughter attends USF. "He could have gone on a shooting spree in the time that it took him to be identified."

Kira Benton, 18, who lives in a residence hall about 300 yards from where the shooting happened, said she knew nothing about it until late Sunday morning. On Monday, she said, students were concerned, wanting to know more about what happened. "I just think the university has a responsibility to prepare for the worst-case scenario," said Benton, a freshman student. "They didn't act in the students' best interests. They got lucky."

But Daniel said it was difficult to know if an emergency notification was warranted. A message would have gone out immediately, he said, if officers had known for sure that gunshots were fired and if they had been unable to quickly locate the suspected shooter.

"There is a fine line as to how we have to put this information out," Daniel said. "It's hard to put out a message when we don't have anything to tell them."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.