Youngstown State University sent out a Penguin Alert Monday and immediately got everyone’s attention — students were told to shelter in place because a man with a gun was seen on campus.
Robert Allen, 19, is now being questioned by detectives. He hasn’t been charged.
Allen was arrested on a warrant for a drug possession charge in an unrelated incident.
It started with a fight in Kilcawley Center just after 11 a.m. — yelling, pushing and shoving. Police said one person showed a gun, then ran away. No shots were fired.
That call to police led to an emergency alert and the campus being placed on lockdown.
“My main goal was to get eyes on, hands on the suspect,” said YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso. “That was the main goal with the lockdown.”
It sent a wave of panic across campus as students barricaded themselves in their classrooms.
“At first, when everyone got the text, they stood up and started exiting, and one of my sisters said, ‘Wait, hold on,'” said Paige Freisen, of Hubbard. “We waited and that’s when the door started to lock and everything started to shut, and we were just stuck. So there was no getting out.”
“My heart was racing, it was really scary,” Lee Billock said. “I was just hoping no one gets hurt, that was my biggest concern.”
“I was at Williamson and the professors of business handled it well. They had everything locked down, blinds down, lights off — handled it pretty good,” said Giacomo Cappabianca, of Youngstown. “We were scared. A couple girls started crying but the teachers calmed us down and had us under control.”
Police came from multiple directions to cover campus and look for the person the victim described as a black man with dreadlocks, wearing a red hoodie and carrying a black backpack.
Police stopped at least one person and searched him, while other officers talked to witnesses and finally got some really good information.
“Gave us the name of the suspect. We located the family and talked to him on the phone. The suspect was asked to come in. He voluntarily came to our station,” Varso said.
That was enough to get the nearly two-hour lockdown lifted. Classes started up again at 3 p.m.
But it also led to a lot of confusion as the investigation continues.
“We have no physical evidence,” Varso said. “We have no firearm in our custody.”
Campus police have some video of the fight that started it all. They’re hoping to see more.
The campus took the lockdown alert and shelter-in-place order seriously until they were told otherwise.
“When you have a real problem, you need to make it priority number one and that will be a great teachable moment for all of us,” YSU President Jim Tressel said.
YSU sent students and staff alerts to keep them updated:
11:31 a.m. — THE CAMPUS IS IN LOCKDOWN. A SUSPECT IS CURRENTLY AT LARGE WITH FIREARM. LAST SEEN BY REC CENTER.
11:33 a.m. — ALL EXTERIOR DOORS ARE TO BE LOCKED. ALL OFFICE DOORS LOCKED. SHELTER IN PLACE TILL FURTHER NOTICE.
12 p.m. — THE SUBJECT WE ARE CURRENTLY LOOKING FOR IS A BLACK MALE, RED HOODIE, WITH RED AND WHITE LETTERING, DREADLOCKS, AND A BLACK BACKPACK.
12:01 p.m. — UPDATE: Campus remains in lockdown. Police are still investigating. No reported injuries. Will provide updates as available.
1:13 p.m. — UPDATE: The campus lockdown has been lifted. The suspect has turned himself in and is in custody. All classes will resume at 3 pm. Thank you for your cooperation.
After concerns about some doors not locking, Varso said they’re now going to look at how to make improvements to see how lockdowns at YSU could go smoother.
Youngstown Community Health Center, Choffin Career and Technical Center, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the Main Library were also placed on lockdown. Those have also been lifted.
Eastern Gateway Community College downtown called Youngstown police for extra security. The college updated students with text messages.