GUPD faces criticism for delayed response to shooting near campus

February 22, 2022

Illustration by John Woolley

At approximately 6:15 pm on Monday, Jan. 31, Tarek Boothe, a 27-year old Alexandria resident, was shot and fatally wounded near the intersection of 33rd St. NW and M St. NW. Within minutes of the gunshot, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers were on the scene and pursuing a suspect. 

“There is a report of a shooting at 33 St and M St; avoid the area and follow instructions from authorities,” read a HOYAlert received at 7:15 pm. 

By the time the HOYAlert was sent out to university community members, Graham Hillmann (SFS ’24), had been warned by his roommate about forty minutes earlier. Luke Henkel (COL ’23) found out through a club group chat, where he immediately passed the message on to other group chats to raise awareness for any students in the area where the shooter was last spotted. Payton Parris (COL ’24) received a call from her mother back home, who’d heard about it from a friend.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Parris said. “My friend and I were in the dining hall when I got the call. We were definitely in an open area and, at that time, we didn’t know the shooter was targeting someone. We had no clue if they could be running around the school.”

Even though all three students subscribed to the HOYAlert notification system utilized by GUPD to alert students of ongoing threats, none of them were informed of the shooting four blocks from campus by the HOYAlert sent from GUPD.

“Official communications came far too late to provide me with any actually useful information,” Hillmann said. “They only provided the hollow reassurance that GUPD and admin were aware of the situation.”

GUPD chief Jay Gruber only sent out an email clarification advising students to take advantage of a number of campus and GUPD-affiliated programs to receive public safety alerts—including the HOYAlert system—at 11:19 am the following day, Feb. 1. 

“In response to this and other recent off-campus incidents, GUPD is coordinating with MPD and has increased patrols on campus and in West Georgetown,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice

Hillmann was reminded of the student outrage following delayed campus communication after an intruder entered New South and harassed students in the early morning of Sep. 19, 2021. GUPD failed to apprehend the intruder, who was armed with a pocket knife, until the following day. The university sent its first communiqué nearly 20 hours after the breach, sparking outrage among the New South residents. The incident prompted GUSA to pass a resolution on the same day demanding transparency with regards to student safety.

HOYAlerts sent by the university and the annual crime reports published by GUPD are required by the Clery Act. The Clery Act is a federal statute which requires universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information. The timely warnings and emergency notifications requirement of the act offer a checklist participating universities must fulfill, but it leaves the specifics of such systems to the discretion of the university police department. A university spokesperson emphasized that GUPD determines the need to issue HOYAlerts on a case by case basis. 

“I know GUPD and the administration have to balance several often mutually exclusive considerations in running their emergency alert systems, but I think I speak for a lot of students when I say I’d rather see them be a bit more proactive,” Hillmann said.

“Even though they’re not going to have all of the details right away, we need to at least be aware of the threat,” Parris said. “They need to work on making it faster. Our students shouldn’t be the ones having to alert people.” 

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