First reported in The Farmville Herald on September 24 and later confirmed by Farmville Chief of Police Andy Ellington, police responded to an incident involving gunshots fired at 1:51 a.m. on September 19 in the rear parking lot of the Midtown Landings, located on South Virginia Street.
In an interview with The Rotunda, Ellington said, “We received a call that night, or early that morning, (that) shots were fired somewhere in the back parking lot here at the Landings. One of my officers happened to be patrolling that area and he was coming up Putney Street and observed two males kind of walking at a fast pace coming up that incline towards Putney Street from the Landings ... As soon as he got out and confronted him, one of the subjects told him he had a firearm on him and it was concealed in his waistband. So he was able to secure the firearm.”
Ellington added, “Through further investigation, the subject admitted he had discharged a round accidentally, behind the Landings as he was trying to unload it.” Ellington said due to his officer’s quick response, Longwood University’s campus and students were in no immediate threat of danger.
Longwood University students and campus community did not receive an alert of this incident.
When asked for comment, Matt McWilliams, assistant vice president of communications at Longwood University, provided the following statement regarding the incident and the administration’s decision.
“In the early morning of Sept. 19, reports were received by Longwood police of a possible gunshot at South Virginia St. When Longwood police arrived just minutes later, Farmville police already had a suspect in custody and determined that an accidental discharge had occurred in the area. There was no threat to campus safety.”
The statement continued, “The university is constantly focused on communicating effectively with campus regarding issues of public safety. An important factor in exactly how we communicate is whether there is any ongoing uncertainty or potential threat to the Longwood community. In all cases, even those like the one that occurred on Sept. 19 which we were confident posed no threat to the university, we prioritize campus safety above all else. At the same time, we seek to balance sharing pertinent details of ongoing situations with the campus at large with ensuring that messages are taken with the appropriate seriousness in times of true emergencies.”
The September 19 incident was one of several reported last month. Just hours before at 11:06 p.m. on September 18, the university administration did send an email alert notifying the campus community and students about a different event, a domestic incident which involved gunfire on Hill Street near Griffin Boulevard. According to that notification, that situation was resolved and was deemed not a threat to campus.
Eight days earlier at 10:48 p.m. on September 10, a Longwood University alert email and text message notification were sent concerning a report of gunshots near the intersection of Putney and Virginia streets. In that initial notification, it was reported the suspects fled the scene, and police believed there was no ongoing threat to campus. An update to the situation was provided at 11:54 p.m., saying the incident had been cleared and reassured there was no ongoing threat to campus.
The administration’s communication with students and the campus community regarding emergency alerts came under scrutiny last semester. In February, students participated in an on-campus protest and a Town Hall Forum to discuss their concerns with university officials regarding a lack of communication after an incident involving a non-student carrying a large firearm in Longwood Village.
McWilliams was present at the Feb. 28 protest, listening to and speaking with student representatives. In a March 1 article in The Rotunda, McWilliams was quoted as saying, “Going forward, we can do better (to) make you feel like we care. This is something we think about all the time.”
When speaking with Ellington on Sept. 25 about the frequency of gun-related incidents, he said, “I will be honest with you, just by what records would show we’ve had an increased number of calls involving shots being fired within the town over the last month.” He estimated four to five calls about shots fired within Farmville town limits ranging from late August to late September.
In town, the Farmville (FPD) and Longwood University Police Departments (LUPD) share concurrent jurisdiction. This means FPD and LUPD have equal arrest power and authority in the town.
Ellington said the LUPD is asked to stay on campus and protect students, but if in their travels they encounter a person committing a crime, they have the power to enforce the law. “So they can also come out, they can write a traffic violation if they observe it, they can arrest people for (being) drunk in public (and) DUIs, what have you.”
Ellington said anytime an incident happens in the Town of Farmville near the properties of Longwood University, he has a duty to inform LUPD Chief of Police Robert Beach of the situation so that Beach can take the proper measures to inform students.
Ellington added himself and Beach are in constant contact during the event of an emergency.
Beach said the population of the Town of Farmville on a day-to-day basis sits at around 6,500, but nearly doubles when students of Longwood University are on campus. He added the ability to combine forces to better serve the community is both neighborly and an added benefit.
He said, “We have students that live all over the map, if you will, and so being able to support that local agency, whether it be Farmville (or) the Sheriff’s Department, in an investigative process or in some other type of law enforcement process to students or staff of the university—it’s just a good friend model, and it’s also an appropriate division of labor and management of resources.”
In an event of an emergency on or around Longwood’s campus, Beach said there are three levels of alerts that can be issued to the campus. Each level, rising from one to three, has varying levels of significance.
According to Beach, a level three alert says there is a “verifiable, imminent threat to life or well-being.” In an event of a level three, he said an alert will be sent to students and campus community, also accompanied by text messages, emails and sirens. He defined an imminent threat as something that is “occurring, or about to occur.”
These alerts, per Beach, will contain information on the recommended measures that should be taken in the aftermath of these incidents, such as staying indoors, etc.
In a level one alert, Beach gave the example of Farmville receiving a large amount of snow, and students being asked to plan accordingly. An issue, but not one that is life-threatening.
“That process is determined by what is going on,” Beach said. “There is no hard and fast line that says, ‘When this happens , then we say everybody is okay,’ that is a determination based on the circumstance.”
In the month of October (as of 10/7), according to the LUPD Crime Log, there have been no gun related incidents on the Longwood University campus.