Classes were back on schedule Thursday morning after reports of a gunman at Catawba Valley Community College had SWAT team officers from the Hickory Police and Catawba County Sheriffâ€™s Office searching both campuses Wednesday morning while classes were placed on lockdown and students were evacuated.
The person being sought was never found, despite a detailed physical description.
A Lincoln County resident who attends classes at the school in southeastern Hickory posted a Facebook message around 10 a.m. Wednesday describing what was happening and noting that the suspicious individual was said to be wearing a white shirt and jean jacket and carrying a rifle or pistol.
According to Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins, a school employee witnessed the armed individual, a white male, walking through a campus parking lot around 9:20 a.m.
The employee immediately contacted the Catawba County Sheriffâ€™s deputy assigned to the school after noticing that the suspicious man possessed a backpack and was carrying what appeared to be a firearm in his hand, police said. Adkins said the employee additionally described him as being between 30 and 40 years of age with long blonde hair.
Hanna Bonner, 22, was sitting inside her media graphics class at the Appalachian State University satellite facility, located on CVCCâ€™s East campus, when she said the campus director entered the room, shut off the lights and told them to lock the door, she told the Times-News in a phone interview on Thursday.
Seconds later, she heard alarms sounding, notifying staff and students of an immediate lockdown. Then a SWAT team busted through her classroom door, frightening her and the other students.
â€œThey had rifles and yelled at everybody not to move,â€ Bonner said. â€œI was terrified; Iâ€™ve never had a gun pointed that close to me.â€
Bonner said the lockdown was lifted more than an hour later, and officers escorted students class-by-class to their vehicles, with hands on heads, as part of the protocol to evacuate all 5,000 people off the campus as quickly and as safely as possible.
CVCC President Dr. Garrett Hinshaw praised local law enforcement officials for both their quick response to the school and their efforts in trying to locate an alleged gunman.
â€œI want to commend law enforcement for their quick and effective response to a situation that could have been disastrous,â€ he said. â€œWe were able to secure and evacuate â€¦ without injury.â€
In addition to an alarm that sounded both inside and outside the East campus, the lockdown was announced via the Internet, email and text alerts, school officials said. Nearby Challenger High School also was notified.
Police and sheriffâ€™s dog teams were used to search the inside of the facility and around the property, but no gunman was located.
Hinshaw noted in a press release late Wednesday afternoon that the emergency reminded staff and students alike â€œof the importance of being prepared for crisis situations.â€
Chief Adkins agreed with Hinshaw. â€œThe incident today showed the importance of continuing training in this area and the cooperation with our law enforcement partners to respond to these types of calls,â€ he said.
Additional agencies that played key roles in Wednesdayâ€™s incident included Hickory Fire Department, Catawba County EMS and the Catawba County Sheriffâ€™s STAR team.
Located about half an hourâ€™s drive from Lincolnton, CVCC at the Appalachian satellite campus are attended by many students with Lincoln County ties.