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Cal State Fullerton Journalism

Questions remain a year after the Cal State Fullerton lockdown

A year later, a robbery suspect who prompted an eight-hour lockdown remains at large — and unidentified

Police search the crash site in front of Mihaylo Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 12, soon after the suspects fled onto campus (Tim Worden)
Police search the crash site on Nutwood Ave. near Mihaylo Hall on Dec. 12, 2012, soon after the suspects fled onto campus. (Photo by Tim Worden)

It was a cloudy winter day, nearly the shortest day of the year, and students were busy preparing for the end of the semester. A few were even cramming for finals.

That all changed shortly before 4 p.m.

It’s been a year now since that day, the December 12, 2012, “lockdown” shelter-in-place, where helicopter floodlights and SWAT teams scoured the affluent North Orange County campus of Cal State Fullerton looking for a man suspected to have been armed and involved in a pawn shop robbery.

But today, little information has reached the public as to how that man was able to skirt through the campus and apparently remain on the lam for a year.

A companion of his who also evaded the tri-county manhunt, by allegedly fleeing south from the group’s crash site at CSUF into the city of Fullerton, was caught two weeks later — 30 miles away.

Moreno Valley police Investigator Ed Rose, who is handling the case as the initial pawn store robbery occurred within his jurisdiction, has kept a tight lid on his investigation.

While contacted for comment in March 2013, he told this reporter that he would not release or discuss any information related to the case since it is an ongoing investigation.

Rose did not answer a request for comment for this story.

The at-large suspect

Various reports by authorities during the night of the lockdown included that the alleged robber may have been wearing dark clothing and that he was suspected to have possibly been armed.

However, authorities have not publicly identified him or stated if, in fact, he was actually armed or not.

It is believed that the suspect was last seen entering the Steven G. Mihaylo Hall building around 3:46 p.m. that night, according to authorities.

Security cameras inside the building show two possible people who police could have considered to be the suspect, both of whom are last seen entering the building’s south side near the Starbucks, and exiting at the main north entrance.

It is not known if either of those men were the suspect, University Police Capt. John Brockie, who commanded the police and SWAT teams’ lockdown response, said in a previous interview. 

For more information on the Mihaylo Hall security camera footage that may show the suspect, read the Daily Titan’s March 2013 article here.

It appears that nothing more about the at-large suspect has been released.

He is believed to be at-large.

The four captured suspects

A man wearing shorts and a white shirt (left) exits the Mihaylo Hall building. He was caught by the California Highway patrol officer shortly after he exited the building. (Photo courtesy of CSUF)
A man wearing shorts and a white shirt (left), who police believe is suspect Jerome Allen, exits the Mihaylo Hall building. He was apprehended by a California Highway Patrol officer shortly after he exited the building. (Photo courtesy of CSUF)

Of the five suspects who were involved in an armed pawn shop robbery that led one or more of the suspects to allegedly shoot the store’s clerk, three were caught that evening.

While being chased by California Highway Patrol officers, they exited the 57 Freeway onto Nutwood Ave., crashed in front of campus and fled on foot in different directions. Two were apprehended at CSUF: One near the Carl’s Jr. (pictured at right) and another at College Park.

A third was caught after carjacking another car and a high-speed pursuit into Watts, Calif.

A fourth suspect, who authorities said fled south into the city of Fullerton, was captured in Long Beach two weeks later.

The suspects have allegedly pled not guilty in court; updates on their trials are not readily available.

The social media buzz

There were more than 3,500 posts on Twitter during the duration of the lockdown that mentioned the lockdown with a #csuf hashtag.

In the first of these mentions, at 4:01 p.m., a student asked, “So why are we evacuating?”

By the time SWAT teams arrived on campus, around 5:45 p.m., there were already more than 1,000 mentions of the lockdown on Twitter with the #csuf hashtag.

Cal State Fullerton and #CSUF were trending through the night in Twitter’s Los Angeles region.

The campus

News vans park in front of Cal State Fullerton on December 13, 2012, the day after the lockdown.
News vans park in front of Cal State Fullerton on December 13, 2012, the day after the lockdown.

At Cal State Fullerton, the night of the lockdown paralyzed the California State University’s largest campus, as about 10,000 people were estimated by officials to have been on campus at the time.

Many were able to evacuate campus in the initial hour or so, but those who did not were put into a modified shelter-in-place.

Many classrooms were reported to have gone with minimal food and water for as long as six or seven hours, and some classes fashioned makeshift barricades to prevent the possible suspect from entering.

Many students, however, disobeyed university officials’ orders to shelter in place and left their buildings hours before SWAT had cleared them.

Overall, it is reported that emergency procedures in place on the campus — such as the blue phones, an emergency alert system and prompt evacuations — worked well.

But it is not known if the lockdown, which happened two days before the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, has impacted the campus’ police and emergency procedures.

Brockie, CSUF police’s administrative captain, declined to comment on how or if the lockdown has affected the campus and police department.

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For further information on the lockdown, here is the Daily Titan’s excellent issue published the morning after the lockdown: View it here.

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By Tim Worden. Published Dec. 12, 2013.

For questions or comment, contact me at timrworden@gmail.com.

A note on the Twitter statistics: I culled through the #csuf Twitter posts a week or two after the lockdown to count how many posts were made mentioning the lockdown.

Categories
Cal State Fullerton

Fourth CSUF lockdown suspect arrested

Police search the crash site in front of Mihaylo Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 12, soon after the suspects fled onto campus (Tim Worden)
Police search the crash site in front of Mihaylo Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 12 about 20 minutes after the suspects fled onto campus (Tim Worden)

Police arrested a fourth robbery suspect who caused a Cal State Fullerton lockdown as he and four other suspects fled onto campus after a pawn shop robbery, spurring a six-hour search in several buildings earlier this month.

Roosevelt Andrew Fernandez, 26, of Compton was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 26. and booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in downtown Riverside for attempted murder, robbery, parole violation and using a firearm during the Dec. 12 robbery of a pawn shop, according to a press release by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

When the five suspects fled after a car crash in front of CSUF, two fled north onto campus and three fled south. One each of the suspects who fled north and south were quickly arrested, and a second who went south was arrested after a carjacking and a subsequent chase to Los Angeles.

Two suspects were remaining by that night, one who fled south into Fullerton and another who was last seen in Steven G. Mihaylo Hall, leading SWAT to clear the five-story building room-by-room, a procedure that took nearly five hours.

The first wave of nine SWAT officers entered the Mihaylo Hall at  5:23 p.m. that night, eight more came in at 5:30 p.m., and about 20 SWAT officers left the building at 10 p.m. Police confirmed the building had been cleared at 10:17 p.m. as students were allowed to go to a staging area to get their IDs checked.

The statement does not specify if Fernandez was the suspect believed to be have gone south or onto campus.

The investigation is ongoing, headed by Investigator Ed Rose of the Moreno Valley Police Department. Moreno Valley, which partners with Riverside County Sheriff’s, leads the investigation since the robbery occurred in the city.

The sheriff’s statement is here: Attempted Murder/Robbery.

I previously covered the lockdown for the Daily Titan here: Lockdown: Suspects still at large.

I blogged about how I used Twitter to live-tweet the lockdown here: Tweeting the CSUF Lockdown (Part I: Chaos).

Categories
Cal State Fullerton News

Tweeting the CSUF lockdown (Part I: Chaos)

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:

https://twitter.com/dtnewsdesk/status/279020419514765312

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.:

https://twitter.com/dtnewsdesk/status/279022023102058496

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:

https://twitter.com/dtnewsdesk/status/279024917993889793

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.