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University of Iowa safer since grad student killed five, wounded one, then killed himself in 1991

BY MATT STARNS | NOVEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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A shooting on the University of Iowa campus left six dead and the community reeling 20 years ago today.

Now, campus safety experts say while it's difficult to prevent such an event, the UI is much better equipped to respond to a similar situation.

"It's hard to predict and prevent people who are intent on committing acts of violence, especially if they don't tell anyone and are acting as a 'lone wolf,' " said Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police. "In terms of responding to such events, we are much better prepared."

On Nov. 1, 1991, then-UI researcher Gang Lu attended a physics seminar in Van Allen Hall. A few minutes into the meeting, he opened fire, shooting and killing his professor, Christoph Goertz, 47; department chairman Dwight Nicholson, 44; Associate Professor Robert Smith, 45, and fellow researcher Linhua Shan, 27.

Lu then walked three blocks to Jessup Hall and entered the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, where he shot and killed T. Anne Cleary, an associate vice president and professor of education. He also seriously wounded Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a student worker in the office. Lu then shot and killed himself.

"There was such chaos … I remember us being summoned to the emergency area to staff the doors [of the UIHC]," said Green, who was the manager of security and fire safety for the UI Hospitals and Clinics during the shootings.

He said one of the major security problems that day was a lack of information.

"We knew there were victims of a shooting, but we didn't know if there was one shooter or multiple shooters," he said. "We also didn't know if the shooter would follow the victims to the hospital."

Green said the incident at the UI — as well as those at Columbine and Virginia Tech — compelled many universities to implement more sophisticated campus-alert systems.

"What came out of [Virginia Tech] was the reverse-messaging with the Hawk Alert system," he said. "Also, we erected towers on campus with sirens that are capable of broadcasting weather alerts, as well as live audio alerts and automated audio alerts."

Chris McGoey, a national crime-prevention and security expert, said an accurate information system is key in the moments after a violent attack occurs.

"What we learn from the major shootings, even going back to Columbine, is when you have no system in place, it's very chaotic," he told The Daily Iowan, noting that without an official information system already in place, it is nearly impossible to keep the public informed in an emergency.

Green said another problem encountered during Lu's 1991 rampage was that UI police were unarmed and untrained, something he said would never happen if a similar event occurred today.

"What would happen today if such a call came out, we would send our police officers who are fully equipped, fully armed, and trained to handle these types of situations," he said.

Regent Robert Downer said the decision to arm the UI police officers, which came after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, wasn't taken lightly.

"It wasn't a unanimous vote as I recall, but it was more than a bare majority who were in favor of it," he said. "[There was a] survey on other campuses around the country of comparable size as to whether the officers were or were not armed; the overwhelming majority of them were."

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, who was on campus during the shooting, said he was in favor of arming UI police.

"To me, it came far later than it should have, because the campus officers are highly trained," he said. "They go through the same police training as city police and sheriff's deputies."

Green also highlighted the UI's Violent Incident Survival Training program which was a direct response to the Virginia Tech shootings.

"The training is how to best react and enhance your chance of surviving if an active shooter is on campus and you're waiting for the police to arrive," he said.

Green maintained that, while the training program can increase chances of survival during an attack, quick and effective law-enforcement reaction is key to stopping the threat.

"The only thing that will stop a shooter in that situation is law enforcement," he said. "They won't stop until they feel that pressure, until that knowledge of law enforcement bearing down on them is there."


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