A white man who is not affiliated with Gonzaga University entered a College Hall classroom on Sept. 14, made statements which disturbed the class and its professor, then left the building and made his way toward the John J. Hemmingson Center.
Just out front of the northwest entrance to the Hemmingson Center, the man was pacified by two Campus Security & Public Safety (CSPS) officers and a Spokane police officer. The officers were called to address the situation after the professor locked the door and students in the class made calls to CSPS.
“Campus Security received the call from a student in the classroom around 4:19 PM. The student stayed on the line with CSPS Dispatch while more calls were coming in to report that this man was now outside of College Hall yelling and walking toward Hemmingson,” said Becky Wilkey, director of CSPS, in an email. “Two Officers, the only ones on duty at the time, were dispatched to College Hall at the same time the initial call came in.”
After assuaging the situation, officers then released the man into the custody of his parents, who were around the campus looking for him at the time. After they picked him up, the man’s parents took him to a local medical facility where a blood test was conducted, which according to them found no traces of narcotics in his system.
The parents, who asked that they and their son not be named, explained that they’ve lived in the nearby Logan Neighborhood for a long time, and that their son is an active community member who held a steady job and previously attended college. According to his parents, the man experienced multiple personal hardships as he entered his 30s, including a struggle over the custody of his children, which led to a significant decline in his mental state.
They said that he now has a clinically recognized medical condition and has been on medication for about half a year, but that it has been progressively less effective.
Still, the parents claim that what transpired on Sept. 14 was something they’ve never seen from him before. They’re concerned that his new diagnosis as a result of this situation will be more severe and harder to treat, but they don’t believe that it will be something permanent for him.
On the day of the incident, according to his parents, the three of them were at lunch when their son began to yell at a cashier. They said this was very out of character for their son, who they described as a pacifist who rarely raised his voice at others.
“We took him to the side and told him he can’t do that,” the man’s father said. “He then started walking back home, we thought, but he was actually making his way to [St. Aloysius] church.”
They say that their son was making his way to the church to talk to a Jesuit priest because he had always shared a close connection with the Jesuits on campus and enjoyed learning about theology from them. His parents said that he entered College Hall after he couldn’t find the help he was looking for on the church grounds.
The email issued to community members by CSPS directly following the all-clear from the situation that day stated that the man had entered College Hall and caused a disturbance, but didn’t provide explicit details as to what occurred.
The next day, the Vice Provost of Student Affairs at GU, Kent Porterfield, issued a statement which clarified that the man entered a particular classroom. Porterfield said that witness accounts described the man’s remarks as “abusive and threatening” and involved language of race and gender directed at the professor, who is a woman of color.
“This man’s language and behaviors had a negative impact, and these behaviors are unequivocally inconsistent with Gonzaga’s mission and values,” Porterfield said in his statement last Wednesday. “What occurred caused real harm to those present and diminished the sense of safety for those involved.”
The incident also led to multiple students filing bias incident reports with the school according to Porterfield’s email.
The man’s parents explained that their son was experiencing an extreme dissociative episode for the first time, and in that state he was looking for someone who could understand his situation. They said the professor he interacted with probably reminded him of an acquaintance, also a woman of color. The parents claim he was trying to tell her a “code word” that if she understood, would let him know that everything is all right.
The parents assumed that neither the teacher nor the class understand their son’s cryptic message which scared both the professor and their son, leading him to flee the room and go back outside.
“We saw him from a distance when he was leaving the back of College Hall to make his way toward the student center,” the father said. “He was gesturing and yelling absurd statements but wasn’t pointing at students or directing what he was saying toward them.”
The parents said that they tried to get to him sooner, but students were obstructing their ability to reach him once officers intercepted their son outside the Hemmingson Center. Their worry was that with so many students around and some of them filming the situation, it would further agitate their son and keep him from calming down.
According to CSPS, once the man was stopped by the two officers who met him on Bulldog Alley three minutes after the initial call from students in the classroom, the officers assessed him as somebody they recognized.
The man didn’t possess any sort of weapon according to CSPS so the officers used passive techniques to
de-escalate the situation.
“De-escalation techniques, mental health recognition and Autism Spectrum Disorder, are among a few of the many trainings we attend semi-annually,” Wilkey said. “We practice scenario-based training and were prepared last Tuesday to engage with this man who was experiencing a mental health episode.”
CSPS told The Bulletin that it is familiar with the man’s family and his struggles with mental health, but that officers have never evaluated him as potentially harmful before.
While he wasn’t seen as a physical threat, the situation he caused called into question the university’s safety and security measures.
An email from CSPS last Friday said that starting then, all campus buildings would require card access to get into. Buildings that more often serve the wider community like College Hall, the Hemmingson Center and the Foley Library were all having their visitor procedures reevaluated.
CSPS also said that it's begun an inspection of all classroom locks on campus to ensure security. Training and safety plans are in talks of being developed by CSPS to bolster awareness on campus. While a timeline for this development process has yet to be defined, Wilkey said that CSPS is committed to putting these plans into action.