After a USF football player was arrested for firing multiple gunshots at the exterior of a campus residence hall early Sunday morning, some students voiced concerns that they were not notified of the incident in a timely fashion.
Reserve offensive lineman Benjamin Knox, 21, was taken into custody and charged with discharging or possessing a firearm and shooting into an occupied dwelling after police say he fired at least two shots at the west side of the Holly D residence hall around 4 a.m.
Students, however, weren’t alerted about the shooting right away. Instead, a school-wide email and university social media reported the incident nearly 12 hours later.
One of the main concerns was that no bulletin was sent out by USF’s emergency notification system, which provides text messages to students informing them of potentially hazardous situations on campus and in the surrounding community.
“We only heard about it because people started complaining,” Rachel Janeck, an on-campus resident freshman majoring in behavioral health care, said.
USF assistant police chief Chris Daniel said the primary reason there was no alert issued was the fact that no individuals were found during the initial sweep of the area around Holly D, including the Crescent Hill parking garage, where an officer near the Greek Village and a student-resident reported hearing gunshots and screeching tires.
Sending out an alert with no verified information, Daniel said, could have caused students to panic.
“At no point during all of that time was there anything that indicated an ongoing threat,” Daniel said. “It’s very difficult for us to send out a message about something that we have no confirmation of and really have no direction for the community or anything to tell them.”
Daniel said police searched the Crescent Hill garage floor by floor, where they eventually found a parked car that contained an open gun case and a box of ammunition on the seat.
The vehicle was quickly traced to Knox, who was arrested inside his dorm room, where they also located a Glock .45 ACP handgun, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Bullets from the gun matched shell casings found near his car.
Knox was transported to Hillsborough County jail, where he was released Monday on $32,500 bond. USF coach Willie Taggart said Knox remains suspended indefinitely from all team activities as investigators continue to gather information.
If Knox had not been apprehended quickly, Daniel said police had a text message prepared to send if the situation arose.
“Putting out a message through a system that he may be receiving would tip him off and potentially create an even more dangerous situation for people,” Daniel said.
Amer Khan, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said an alert notifying students that the suspect was in custody still should have been sent out earlier.
“That needs to happen,” Khan said. “Obviously that’s concerning. In this day and age, public shootings are very common.”
Daniel, however, wants students to know that police handled the situation responsibly.
“We have to be cautious (and) put out good, solid information,” Daniel said. “Then, when it comes time to not put out information, such as when we identified (Knox), we’re doing that for the purpose of not creating an unsafe situation for students by notifying the suspect that we’re on our way.”