COLUMBUS, Georgia (WRBL) — Three weeks after an apparent murder-suicide on Columbus State University’s main campus, university officials are speaking out about policy changes brought about by the tragedy.
After the Aug. 18 murder-suicide, Columbus State University officials discovered there were some problems with the way students, faculty and staff were notified of threats or incidents on campus.
CSU uses a system called Cougar Alert for threats ranging from a potential active shooter to impending severe weather.
CSU Police Chief Laura Bennett says the new goal is faster alerts with more specific calls to action.
“I think the biggest benefit is being able to send out these alerts more quickly for notification purposes even though we knew the threat was contained,” Bennett said. “That doesn’t stop people from being curious and wanting to know. And I think we could have done this a lot sooner.”
The shooting involved two students near the Lenoir Hall Annex. A woman was shot in her car and a man was found dead directly outside the vehicle from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The incident occurred around 10 a.m. Around 11 a.m., media outlets reported the apparent murder-suicide, citing the Muscogee County Coroner’s Office as the source. The first Cougar Alert was sent out at 11:11 a.m. She informed students of a gun-related incident on campus for which there was no ongoing threat.
One finding is that the CSU system was integrated into the National Weather Service system. Every weather report issued by the weather service enters the CSU system. This triggered an email, a text alert, and a phone call.
Bennett says there will be fewer weather-related warnings.
“Our idea is not to overwhelm ourselves with too many weather warnings and to stick to things that are very specific,” Bennett said.
And Cougar Alerts provide clear instructions for recipients.
“And they are given instructions like evacuate, shelter in place, secure in place, avoid an area,” the chief said. “And when that’s done, they get the all-clear.”
What the first officers observed at the scene of a murder-suicide and the subsequent investigation led CSU officers to handle the Cougar alert the same way they did.
“If we had believed there was an ongoing threat, the response and reaction would have been completely different,” Bennett said.
While debriefing the handling of the murder-suicide, Bennett said some things were handled well.
“There were a lot of things that worked very well,” Bennett said. “Thank you to my partners at the Columbus Police Department and the GBI. They were great assets. I think that went very well. I think our Counseling Services and Create Care team stepped up with everything they had for our students, faculty and staff.”
The GBI is still investigating the incident and has not yet released a final report.