UPDATE: CVCC gunman not found

About 5,000 people were on lockdown at Catawba Valley Community College’s two campuses Wednesday after someone reported a gunman on school property.

Area SWAT teams intensively searched CVCC’s east and main campuses for nearly four hours after a school employee spotted what they thought was a man with a gun in the East Campus parking lot.

The supposed gunman was never located.

“What we had was an employee that was obviously distraught and she acted appropriately in the way she’s trained,” said CVCC President Dr. Garrett Hinshaw. “The biggest thing at this point in time is that no one was hurt.”

Police say a female employee was walking in the East Campus parking lot about 9:20 a.m. Wednesday when she spotted a middle-aged white male holding a handgun. She said the man was in his 30s or 40s, wearing a backpack and had long, curly blonde hair, said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins.  

The employee contacted a Catawba County sheriff’s deputy on duty at the campus, who then contacted Hickory Police Department and the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, Adkins said.

Authorities arrived, officials locked down the college campuses, and at about 10:47 a.m. CVCC launched its security alert system.

“We immediately activated audio, video and texting alerts,” Hinshaw said.
There were about 1,000 students on the East Campus when it was placed on lockdown, including about 28 toddlers in the school’s child care program. About 3,000 students were on lockdown on the Main Campus.

Hinshaw said an audio alert informed the students that the procedure was not a drill.  

He said the text message — which was sent to all students who had opted to participate in the alert system — said that CVCC’s main and east campuses were on lockdown, and instructed students not on campus to wait until further notice.

Students remained on lockdown for more than three hours while the Catawba County Special Tactics and Response (S.T.A.R) Team and Hickory police searched the East Campus first. After preliminary and secondary searches of the East Campus, students and teachers were evacuated by classroom. The toddlers in the child care center were also evacuated and taken to the Skateland roller skating rink, which sits directly adjacent to campus and is a CVCC “safe zone,” Hinshaw said.

The same type of search and evacuation was then completed at the main campus.

Classes were canceled for the remainder of the day and evening. Hinshaw said classes will resume as scheduled Thursday.

Police never located the described suspect, but Hinshaw said the main thing is no one was hurt. He said he was impressed by how quickly authorities responded and how smoothly the process went.  

“Our No. 1 focus was safety and security,” Hinshaw said. “We’re definitely going to re-evaluate everything that happened today and see how we can improve.”

Hinshaw said the last full-scale lockdown drill was held on campus in 2008. However, he said administrators recently discussed having a similar lockdown drill in coming weeks.

"Today we were reminded of the importance of being prepared for crisis situations,” Hinshaw said in a statement late Wednesday. “I want to commend law enforcement for their quick and effective response to a situation that could have been disastrous on our campus. We were able to secure and evacuate approximately 5,000 people without injury."