Catherine O’Donnell/Executive Editoremail@example.com
“I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I didn’t know what was happening,” said Becca Gurney, assistant professor of Fine Arts, recalling her arrival at Sloane Hall on Monday, July 24.
At first, Gurney thought the Art & Design building on North Campus had been, as she later put it in an email, “broken into and ransacked.”
She found multiple bullet casings on the floor, doors that were typically locked were open, furniture was piled up, and the art on her office door was torn down.
She had no idea if the perpetrator was still in the building, and she was very frightened.
Gurney was unaware that two days earlier, an active shooter drill had been held in Sloane for St. Michael’s College Fire and Rescue and other local police and emergency medical service departments. Another Art & Design faculty member was the first to inform Gurney and the rest of the staff.
They grew more upset as they walked around the building and found a smashed window in the basement, a door kicked in, and spray paint graffiti.
“The fact that there was little to no effort to let Art & Design faculty or students know this was planned or ask if it was OK with us to use our academic building for this activity was…deeply distressing,” said Brian Collier, Professor of Art & Design, in an email. “The slowness of response and lack of any public statement has been frustrating.”
In a joint letter to the administration, the Fine Arts Faculty demanded “a public statement of explanation and apology from the administration (not just back-channel apologies with no admission of responsibility).”
The faculty also expressed outrage that there was no consideration of students experiencing a “stark emotional response” to evidence of gun violence.
“We ask administration and staff to pause and recognize that our students have witnessed school shootings, school shooter drills, and served in the military; they also deeply feel each incidence of racist and homophobic violence across the country,” the letter added. “SMC staff and administration need to recognize that these factors feel especially real to younger generations.”
According to Leo Wermer, chief of St. Michael’s College Fire and Rescue, the drill was a simulation of a reported shooter event.
Mock patients were in the building, pretending to be shot, injured, or killed.
Though no loaded weapons were involved and no shots were fired, at least 20 bullet casings were placed around the building for effect.
The drill was organized by Northeast Emergency Training Solutions (NETS), a Vermont based company that trains emergency service providers.
Nick Carson, the owner of NETS, said the goal of the drill was combining security and medical care.
“It’s putting together that whole incident command picture, where you have the management of all these different teams working together,” Wermer said. “They’re gonna be here in a real life event, so we need to work with those folks.”
Burlington Fire Dept., Williston Fire Dept., Winooski Police Dept., Colchester Police Dept., Colchester Rescue, and University of Vermont Rescue were among local departments present.
Carson said this training is a state protocol for EMS providers. It was requested and paid for by the Vermont EMS District 3.
In the wake of their discovery, the Art & Design faculty sent an initial email to Jeff Favreau, head of public safety, Gretchen Galbraith, dean of faculty, and Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president of academic affairs, expressing their concerns and looking for answers.
“If anyone answered, it was, ‘we’re sure it’s fine, it wasn’t us’,” Gurney said. “It was a lot of pointing over there, pointing over there. So no real clear answers.”
Professor Bill Ellis, chair of the Fine Arts department, said the only notice of the drill was an email from Jeff Favreau on July 7, which was only sent to three members of the Art & Design staff.
“There would have been no way for me to know it other than word of mouth,” Gurney said.
Ellis was also left out of the email list, and voiced frustration with the lack of communication. He said he should have been notified in advance, and been given more information after the incident.
“No one has really come forward to accept responsibility,” Ellis said.
Nearly two months on from the incident, the department has yet to receive a satisfactory response. “The lack of a public statement, public apology or a clear sense of who actually ran the event, and how much disruption was allowed to occur and not cleaned up, remains deeply distressing,” said Collier.
Dawn Ellinwood, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, regrets decisions made regarding the drill.
“There was a breakdown in communication,” Ellinwood said. “By no means was this meant to harm anybody. This was to prepare us and help our campus.”