Handgun found on Northwest College campus Wednesday

Posted 10/20/15

NWC Security Officer Lee Blackmore wrote in a campus-wide email that a faculty member found a backpack containing a gun in a Yellowstone Building classroom and brought it to Blackmore’s office.

“The backpack was received at approximately …

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Handgun found on Northwest College campus Wednesday


Owner quickly identified; incident deemed not a threat to campus safety

A handgun was found in a backpack at Northwest College campus on Wednesday, prompting quick action by the campus security officer.

NWC Security Officer Lee Blackmore wrote in a campus-wide email that a faculty member found a backpack containing a gun in a Yellowstone Building classroom and brought it to Blackmore’s office.

“The backpack was received at approximately 11:07 (a.m.), and the owner of the gun was quickly identified by about 11:08 (a.m.),” Blackmore wrote. “It is very apparent that there was never any harm intended toward the campus or any member of the NWC community. Administration was immediately notified and took appropriate action.”

NWC President Stefani Hicswa was attending a conference in California on Wednesday, but she sent an email to the campus community that night.

“I want to assure you that appropriate procedure was followed in this situation and that the issue has been addressed,” she said. “There was no need for a campus alert at the time, as the absence of a threat was determined within minutes.”

No contact with the Powell Police Department was necessary, she said Thursday.

Hicswa declined to identify who the gun belonged to, or whether the owner was a student, employee or community member. However, she said the owner is authorized to carry a concealed weapon in a gun-free zone.

On Monday, Hicswa said she had received a letter from the Park County Sheriff’s Office stating that the gun owner is a reserve deputy in good standing due to retirement.

Greg Thomas, an assistant professor of speech communications at the college, said he found the backpack in a classroom on the first floor of the Yellowstone Building.

According to the online class schedule, Thomas was teaching in Room 116 of the Yellowstone Building at the time.

“When I walked up to the podium, there was a bag behind the podium,” Thomas said. “When I went to move the bag ... the top was unzipped, and there was a gun in there. I dismissed my class and took it to security.”

There, he told Blackmore where he found the backpack and turned it in, Thomas said.

In his email to the campus, Blackmore indicated, without naming the person, that Thomas’ response was appropriate.

An online class schedule for Northwest College shows Dave Patterson, a retired Park County Sheriff’s Office deputy, was teaching Introduction to Criminal Justice in Room 116 of the Yellowstone Building from 10 to 10:50 a.m. on Wednesday.

When asked about the incident by email, Patterson responded that “The incident was addressed in an appropriate manner by NWC Administration.” He did not respond to requests for more information.

During a phone interview Thursday, Hicswa repeated that there was no danger to students or to the college community.

Emergency training planned

Had Wednesday’s incident actually been a threat, the Incident Command Team would have been notified, Hicswa said.

“We have a phone number, and the first one on the team to answer puts everything into place,” she said. “Decisions are made on down the line.”

Each team member has an emergency bag with contact information, a copy of the emergency plan, food, water and other items that might be necessary during an emergency, she said.

“We all know what to do. ... The team would meet at that location to determine the next steps. We’d open up the plan for whatever the situation might be, and it goes through the steps that we need to follow.”

The Incident Command Team consists of the president, vice presidents, deans, director of security, facilities director, finance director (that position is vacant), residence life director, computing services director and whoever else the incident commander determines necessary for a particular situation, Hicswa said.  “On one of our drills this summer, we brought in the dining services director, financial aid director and registrar. We may also need to involve various community first responders, depending on the situation — Fire Department, EMS or the Police Department.”

Depending on the situation, the college could be placed on lockdown, just as Casper College and public schools were Wednesday afternoon when a man was seen waving a gun in public during a domestic confrontation, she said.

Hicswa said several emergency drills have occurred on campus, but there hasn’t been a drill for an active-shooter scenario.

“People’s reaction (after the Umpqua Community College shooting) made me aware that they need to know more about our emergency action plan. While many are involved, not everyone has been, and they need to know more,” she said.

“Our incident command team has conducted various drills over the last two years, but the campus at large also needs to be aware of the processes so that everyone feels comfortable implementing the elements of the emergency plan,” she said in her email to the campus.

Hicswa said Blackmore is working with NWC Human Resources Director Jill Anderson to arrange training sessions to update the campus community on Northwest College’s emergency plan.

Hicswa said she also has talked with Student Senate President Sam Jones about training for students.

In addition, Hicswa said she is reviewing NWC policies, the student handbook and state law in regard to guns on campus.