Sul Ross issues 2-hour shelter-in-place following suspicious person reports

ALPINE — On Monday afternoon, Sul Ross State University briefly issued a shelter-in-place order after receiving multiple reports of a suspicious person on campus, with university President Pete Gallego stating authorities were investigating a possible shooter on the Alpine campus. Ultimately, no danger was found, and the campus was declared safe in a matter of about two hours.

According to university Chief of Staff Michael Pacheco, campus police received multiple calls in quick succession, around 2:40 p.m., reporting “a suspicious person with a suspicious object,” prompting the university to issue the shelter-in-place order.

Shortly after 3 p.m., the university issued the lockdown order for its Alpine campus via the school’s text-based alert system, telling those on campus to “seek the nearest room and lock yourself inside.” Community members took to social media that afternoon searching for answers, with some parents of Sul Ross students expressing concern for their children who were sheltering on campus.

Though it was not immediately clear to recipients what had triggered the order, Gallego posted on Twitter shortly before 4 p.m. that he had called for the shelter-in-place so university police and local law enforcement could investigate “a report of a possible shooter,” noting that a sweep of the campus thus far had revealed nothing alarming. 

Shortly after 4 p.m., the Alpine Police Department, which had been called in to assist university police along with the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office, declared via Facebook that university police had verified “no active shooter” on campus, though law enforcement was still in the process of clearing all buildings before the lockdown could be lifted.

The lockdown was lifted shortly after 5 p.m., when students and staff received the “all clear” message by text. Gallego took to Twitter again to share the news.

“We follow the ‘see something, say something’ rule & we value the safety of every student, staff member & faculty member,” reads the tweet. “Ours is a strong #LoboFamily – & we protect it. All clear!”

The “suspicious person” who prompted the calls was not found, said Pacheco, and no object was recovered. 

The university got help from local law enforcement to make the process more efficient — several officers from the Alpine Police Department and several deputies from the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office provided assistance. “We’d like to thank them for their response and helping us with the call,” said Pacheco.

The Brewster County Sheriff’s Office on Monday said it had first received a call regarding a person with an object sticking out of their bag around 1:45 p.m., but that it was deemed likely a baseball bat.

Betteanne Purcell, a junior at the university studying agriculture education, was in the lecture hall of the campus’ Animal Science Center when she got the lockdown alert — the lecture hall was not locked, so she and two other students were ushered into the office of Dr. Bonnie Warnock, dean of agriculture & natural resource sciences, who was quickly moving through the building to ensure students were locked in rooms. 

At first, no one knew why the lockdown order had been issued, said Purcell — the first thing she heard was that the suspicious object in question was a rifle, but but she was quickly told by another student that authorities were looking for someone with a baseball bat in their bag, which alleviated her fears.

“Some of us were nervous as rumors started to fly, but overall, being with each other was reassuring because we knew we would be safe,” said Purcell, who added that the university had been supportive in the aftermath.

“The college did offer counseling [on Tuesday] to those who may have needed it, so that was very good to hear as well!” she said.