MELBOURNE — A knife-wielding Florida Tech student who attacked and injured three other students and then wounded a police officer was shot dead late Friday night by Melbourne police and school security officers, police said Saturday.
Alhaji Sow, 18, a sophomore from Riverdale, Ga., who was studying aeronautical science, was killed in a confrontation with law enforcement officers after a reported series of assaults that began in Roberts Hall, a student dormitory, police said. Officers were called to the Melbourne campus just before 11 p.m. Friday to respond to reports that a student armed with a knife had attacked students.
Commander Heath Sanders of the Melbourne Police said at least three students had been battered during the incident, though he said their injuries were minor and they had been treated at the scene. Authorities did not disclose the identities of the students.
The shooting occurred after Melbourne police and Florida Tech security entered Campbell Hall, a dorm building across a parking lot from Roberts Hall. There, they found Sow, armed with an "edged weapon," and confronted him, police said. Sow lunged at the officers, leading a Melbourne Police officer and a Florida Tech security officer to discharge their guns, killing him.
The Melbourne officer, a 5-year-veteran, was injured during the confrontation. The extent of the officer's injury, as well as the officer's name, were not disclosed.
Dale Henry, a freshman in computer science, said he heard the gunshots "right outside" his dorm room door.
"At first I thought it was just banging because I heard people playing ping-pong earlier, so I thought somebody was just getting into the spirit of the game originally, but then I heard the sound of bullets hitting the floor," Henry said.
Henry said he locked his door and stood far away from it. Moments later, he heard a security guard say, "Suspect down."
Finding out who was shot hurt, Henry said. Sow was the first person Henry met on campus in the fall.
"He never struck me as anybody to do this type of stuff," Henry said. "He was a really calm and chill guy."
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Saturday afternoon, Florida Tech President T. Dwayne McCay provided a statement to the campus, saying that the community could use the "lessons of life's trials and tribulations" to become stronger.
"I mourn any loss of life, while I also remain steadfastly thankful for the men and women who invest their lives in protecting us," McCay wrote. "The safest university campuses are the ones where students, staff, faculty and others look out for one another. We do that at Florida Tech."
Early Saturday morning, parents and students took to Florida Tech's Facebook page to post complaints about university's security alert system, with many saying they weren't alerted to the situation until after it occurred. Some said they received no alert at all despite being signed up to receive alerts.
"This would have been useful almost 2 hours ago when this was taking place. As a student, it is outrageous that I find out that my safety is at risk through friends and classmates before I get any sort of notification from the school," Andrea Chavez wrote in a comment on a Facebook post instructing students to shelter in place. The post was made by Florida Tech at 12:15 a.m. Saturday.
Another student, Ryan Kitelinger, responded to Chavez, writing, "I agree! I walk around campus at night sometimes to clear my head, and I would (have) totally been clueless on what would be happening. Heard about it hours after it happened. Makes me feel very unsafe."
But others praised the university's alert system and its frequent updates.
One parent, Susan Regen, commented on a post made at 5:30 a.m., saying, "Thank you for sending out alerts last night. I called my son while it was happening and he was safe. He was at his fraternity house, he had received the messages, the kids blocked the entrance with cars so there would be no access, and they kept all the kids there together, no one in or out. Thank you for responding so quickly and for keeping the families informed. My prayers to all that were involved."
Florida Tech spokesman Wes Sumner said the emergency system, which operates by text, voice and email for students who have opted in, was functional during the incident and alerts were issued.
Sumner also said in a statement sent out to the Florida Tech community that the Student Life program was "arranging support services for students or other members of the university community who may require it."
Saturday's "Test Fest" was canceled to "accommodate that support," he added.
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What is Florida Tech's use of defensive weapons policy?
Florida Tech security officers are required to be trained in the use of pepper spray, with the policy saying it "shall be drawn only as a last resort in self-defense or in defense of a third party under threat of immediate physical harm."
The policy also states that "in general," five stages of intervention "may be identified." The use of pepper spray is restricted to the fourth and fifth stage. These stages are officer presence, verbal communication, empty hand control, intermediate/less-than-lethal weapons and lethal force/deadly force.
The fourth stage protocol says that "if all else fails, the pepper spray may be drawn" defensively and that it should never be used offensively. The fifth stage allows officers to use "deadly weapons such as firearms to stop an individual's actions."
Whenever an officer draws the pepper spray, a report must be filed explaining the action, even if the pepper spray is not deployed, according to the policy. This report is then submitted to the immediate supervisor and reviewed by the director of security, the university attorney and president.
The policy did not state what happens when firearms are drawn or used.
Sumner said there are no additional university policies regarding the use of force and Florida Tech complies with state-mandated security officer licensing requirements.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Melbourne Police, Florida Tech security fatally shoot armed student on campus