Police are investigating to see if an arrested suspect is in fact the individual behind a gun and bomb scare at USF on Monday.
USF student Vincent Thomas-Perry McCoy was arrested near Parking and Transportation Services and charged with a felony of a false report concerning planting a bomb on state-owned property after he told passengers on a bus that authorities were looking for him.
University Police (UP) received a call from someone affiliated with Parking and Transportation Services around 2:30 p.m. saying that the suspect was on the parked Bull Runner D bus.
All buses were immediately routed to Parking and Transportation Services.
According to the arrest affidavit, bus passengers said McCoy stood up and said, “I’m the bomber. I have a bomb right here.”
McCoy walked off the bus toward the Parking and Transportation Services building, said Elizabeth Manfredo, a passenger on the nearby Bull Runner C bus.
UP arrested McCoy at 2:52 p.m. in the parking lot next to Parking and Transportation Services.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Manfredo said.
Before the arrest, hostage negotiators reported to the scene because the suspect was on the bus with
other people, said UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross.
“We wanted to be prepared, but we never needed that,” Ross said.
The bus driver asked passengers to take cover, said USF student Thalissa Louis, who was also on the C bus.
“I was nervous,” Louis said. “I was just hoping that everything was passing on.”
At 3:23 p.m., authorities escorted bus passengers into the Parking and Transportation Services building and kept them there to record witness accounts. Everyone was released at 5:23 p.m. No injuries were reported, Ross said.
The Tampa Police Department Bomb Squad then searched what authorities believe is McCoy’s backpack.
A robot searched the backpack while bomb squad members yelled, “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” before an explosive sound came from the robot. If there was any explosive material, the robot’s mechanics would have detonated. No weapon or bomb was found.
The backpack is now in possession, Ross said.
“I know that it will be an active investigation probably for a while,” Ross said. “I know we’re looking into the original phone call, where it came from, who made it and what kind of information we can get from that and determine if the suspect we did arrest was indeed the person that was reported or if the original call was a hoax.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office transferred the initial 911 call to UP at 1:36 p.m., Ross said.
The caller said the suspect was dressed “all in black” and had a gun and bomb near the Library, Ross said. Authorities believe the caller and the suspect know each other, Ross said.
Details including the location of the 911 call have not been released, but Ross said if it was made on campus, UP’s communication center would have intercepted it.
At 1:43 p.m., UP charged into the Library with guns drawn, evacuated students and closed the building’s entrance. Other UP officers patrolled the perimeter of the building, wielding rifles.
The Emergency Notification System blasted notifications throughout campus of the situation. The first siren rang a few minutes before the first MoBull text message alert was sent out around 1:49 p.m. advising students to stay inside and lock their doors.
USF student Carla Perla and two friends were in a study room on the fourth floor of the Library when she received the first MoBull alert.
It wasn’t until a second MoBull alert at 2:06 p.m. that she and other students in the Library learned the “armed person” might be nearby.
“(My first thought) was to turn off the lights and hide,” Perla said.
Perla and her friends locked the door to the study room and called 911. Police arrived and escorted the group from the Library.
Pranam Parsanlal, who was with Perla in the Library, said they could see people pass by the door but did not see a gunman.
“The only reason that we knew it was the Library was (a friend) was outside waiting and (UP) wouldn’t let her in and she was like, ‘There’s a gunman in the Library,'” Parsanlal said.
Ross said she isn’t sure about the confusion, but these situations can make it difficult to inform students.
“I’m not sure, but our original information was that there was an armed suspect in the Library,” Ross said. “It’s hard to say (students) should go in or stay out or whatever, so sometimes we don’t know exactly where an armed person is.”
Another individual wearing a black tank top and a cowboy hat was arrested Monday outside Russell M. Cooper Hall because of reports that a male was seen with a “large knife,” Ross said.
The suspect was questioned by UP and released. His reason for being there was “adequately” explained, Ross said.
An “all clear” MoBull alert was sent at 4:20 p.m. telling the campus community to resume “normal activities” but to avoid police activity near Parking and Transportation Services.
A final “all clear” MoBull alert was sent at around 6 p.m. after the bomb inspection, telling students all areas of campus were able to return to normal.
McCoy is being held in the Hillsborough County Jail on $7,500 bond.
UP takes incidents like these seriously even if it may be a false alarm, Ross said. If it turns out the incident was a hoax, those involved could face restitution, she said.
“The Virginia Tech incidents, they’ve been critical of and it’s changed the way we do business,” Ross said. “This is how we do business now.”
This is the fourth incident since May where the Univesity sent MoBull alerts reporting alleged gunmen on campus.
In May, a USF ROTC student was mistaken for a gunman. The item he was carrying turned out to be a practice rifle.
Another student was reported carrying a black handgun near Greek Village in June.
UP interviewed the student and found it was a wallet and a cell phone.
In July, a male called the county crisis center saying he was on campus with a gun.
UP concluded the male was never on campus or had a gun. Authorities Baker Acted him.
– Additional reporting by Alissa Belmont, Chadd Brown, Vince Defrancesco, Yaffi Hilili, Kerry Klecic, Issa Luckett, Katie Nelson, Mike Wilson, Jenna Withrow and Selma Younes