Alleged firearm sighting

UW-Platteville closes campus after reports of a security threat


Karlie Winchester

Grant County Sheriff’s Department patrol the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus after reports of a firmarm in Ullsvik Hall. All buildings were evacuated after the 1:30 p.m. announcement.

University of Wisconsin-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields closed all public campus buildings  at 1:30 p.m. on March 14 due to a security threat in the men’s restroom on the first floor of Ullsvik Hall.

UW-Platteville student David Kalenga-Kasongo was using the restroom when he heard a clicking noise that he interpreted as the racking of a gun.  He pulled the Ullsvik fire alarm at 12:50 p.m. and called the Platteville city police. Kalenga-Kasongo later said he saw the barrel of a rifle that he thought was an AK-47.

At 1:15 p.m. a Rave Alert, the emergency communication system UW-Platteville uses, informed people campus-wide to avoid the Ullsvik Hall area.

“The fire alarm was set off and then everybody left the building,” Ullsvik coffee shop manager Mary Buckhaus said. “I saw nothing suspicious, everything looked like a normal day. I assumed it was a fire drill.”

— Mary Buckhaus

“Go home, we’re clearing the campus,” Shields said as he passed students and faculty on the sidewalks between Ullsvik and the Markee Pioneer Student Center on his way to the Mining Room to discuss the decision with campus communication personnel and make the official call.

Director of University Information and Communications and Public Information Officer Paul Erickson announced the closing over the campus public address system at 1:30 p.m., 40 minutes after the fire alarm went off in Ullsvik Hall.

“The alarm went off, so I grabbed my stuff and followed procedure,” distance education adviser Sarah Fisher said.  “Being that it was around lunch time when the alarm went off, personally I thought someone had burnt popcorn or something associated with lunch.”

Fisher said she knew the alarm wasn’t a drill because the university does fire drills on Wednesdays and that faculty is informed if there will be one occurring.

But not everyone knew it wasn’t a drill.

“The fire alarm was set off and then everybody left the building,” Ullsvik coffee shop manager Mary Buckhaus said. “I saw nothing suspicious, everything looked like a normal day.  I assumed it was a fire drill.”

The Hickory and Main coffee shop, where Buckhaus was working at the time, is located around the corner from the men’s restroom on the first floor of Ullsvik Hall.

Sophomore industrial engineer major Joseph Lerdahl was walking to class when he noticed the groups of people crowding the sidewalks.

“I walked up to the building and thought there was a fire drill going on,” Lerdahl said.  “I stood around waiting outside the doors for about 10 minutes.”

Lerdahl, who stood next to a reporter in the crowd, talked with other students about how long the drill was taking. A group of faculty members behind Lerdahl wondered aloud what was happening. University volunteers in orange vests also seemed clueless.

“It wasn’t until I saw police filing in with their rifles that I knew it wasn’t burnt popcorn anymore,” Fisher said.

“When [the university volunteers] told us to move back to the library was when I actually started taking things seriously,” Lerdahl said. “When the cops came with assault rifles that kind of puts some seriousness into a situation.”

Across town, Platteville public schools went on external lockdown — no one was allowed to enter or leave buildings. The school day went on as usual and classes were dismissed at 3:20 p.m. as planned.

“I’ve been here for 25 years and I’ve never known anything to happen at the university that put us on external lockdown,” a teacher from the public high school said.

Shields and UW-Platteville Interim Chief of Police Jason Williams spoke at a news conference at 3:30 p.m. in the Pioneer Haus on the first floor of the MPSC.  Williams said, “[The alarm] could have been [a false alarm], but we’re going to take every threat or call very seriously.”

After the news conference, media studies major Betsy Heidt, who writes for the Exponent as part of a newswriting class, was walking through campus when she came across an unfired bullet outside of Karrmann Library. She called campus police, who sent an officer to collect the bullet.

“There was a bullet found and we are in the process of determining whose it is,” Williams said. Williams said the bullet could have belonged to one of the officers. See Betsy Heidt’s article for her perspective.

With additional reporting by Hannah Helwig and Mohammad Tazin.

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