A SWAT team roamed the campus, a helicopter flooded a searchlight onto Mihaylo Hall and students barricaded entrances to classrooms at Cal State Fullerton Wednesday as the campus went into lockdown.
It was like Black Hawk Down.
I was at the sixth floor of College Park, the building in the background in the photo above. Our vantage point at the Daily Titan, the school’s newspaper, gave us the eyes and ears of campus. We used this to our advantage by tweeting. At one point, a dozen SWAT officers prowled Mihaylo Hall across from us, so we ducked from the windows because we had a very real fear that a firefight might start between SWAT and the suspect, who was believed to have a gun.
It all began as the police were searching for two suspects who made their way to Cal State Fullerton from a Moreno Valley jewelry store robbery at 3 p.m. They crashed in front of the Marriot Hotel next to CSUF at 3:47 p.m. Two of the suspects were caught, but the other two ran on foot onto the campus (another hijakced another vehicle and went to Watts in Los Angeles).
The student they crashed into was heading to CSUF to take a test. By 4 p.m. students were evacuating.
I was at the scene of the crime by 4:04 p.m., so about 17 minutes late. A few of our Daily Titan reporters and photographers had been there 10 minutes before me. At first we thought this was just some normal thing like a hit-and-run.
Then I saw a California Highway Patrol officer strutting down Nutwood Avenue, walking in the center of westbound’s three lanes, carrying an M16.
It’s a blur, but I am 95 percent sure I was 15 feet away from the police officers when they put one of the suspects into custody (not sure if the first or second suspect they caught). They pushed us back five feet or so to put up police tape over the sidewalk as they secured the area near Steven G. Mihaylo Hall.
I tweeted this at 4:09, a tweet that got picked up on Cal State Fullerton’s storify:
It became clear that this was something big, so the editor-in-chief for the Daily Titan told me to go back to the Daily Titan newsroom and write a brief on this and send some tweets from the Daily Titan. As soon as he told me this, I decked across Nutwood Avenue. It was brimming with traffic so I rushed through and dodged cars. My backpack must have been opened because on my way to College Park, I heard the sound of my illustration H pencil falling from my backpack. That’s a high-quality art pencil, but I did not even want to waste the five seconds it would take to pick it up.
By 4:20, the campus was in full lockdown.
I got into the newsroom and told everyone the gameplan: Tweet, write a brief and get photos up online. We knew something was going on, but most of us did not know what. We knew there was a suspect, but even at the time we did not know what or if he was armed. We tried to call our reporters that were out covering it.
Our web editor who has access to the newspaper’s Facebook and Twitter went out to report, then got locked up in Dan Black Hall, so I did not know what to do at first. We tried calling him, but his phone started buzzing at the computer next to me. He left his phone. I’m hazy about this part, but I think I thought what the password might be so I tried that and it worked. But we had already wasted valuable time. So I headed up our social media coverage.
This was the first Tweet I sent:
I tweeted that at 4:30, but I could have sent that at 4:09 if I had the Twitter access and if we had better organization. It was like a war and we were ambushed. The Daily Titan fared well that night, but scoring the spotlight 20 minutes earlier would have sealed the deal for us.
I had my mistakes, and I made them early.
I tweeted this at 4:36 p.m.:
We later realized that the suspects’ car was the Lexus and the student’s car was the Hyundai.
At at 4:48 p.m. I sent this one:
Doh! It was a rumor, but I did not give attribution or anything. Police denied any gunshots throughout the entire night. Besides, at the time it was actually a rumored gunshot by undetermined person, either by police or a suspect.
This ends Part I: Chaos. I will post a narrative of the entire night, including one point where police officers with M16s came to our newsroom and we stood up and told them we are staying in the building, even though a full evacuation had been called for the building.