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Lockdown

Students and faculty take to their phones in a media equipment closet in the Visual Communication building on Montana State University's campus during the lockdown Thursday.

Montana State University is no longer under a shelter order after a disgruntled employee who had threatened to "end it all" was arrested.

The campus was locked down for about two hours Thursday. No shots were fired and no one was injured in the incident, which began around 12:15 p.m.

On Thursday, campus police were made aware of a disgruntled lower-level campus employee who was in the process of being dismissed from his job.

The man had made threats toward the campus and said "to a family member he was ready to end it all and he has all of his guns loaded and he was ready to take out anyone with him," MSU Police Chief Frank Parrish said.

Police also learned of a social media post from the employee stating, "all I can say right now is f--- this life. I am ready to check out," Parrish said.

In a press conference on campus, which the Bozeman Daily Chronicle live streamed on Facebook, Parrish said the employee was scheduled for a dismissal hearing at 2 p.m. and had been on campus about 20 minutes before the incident began. Police said his car was parked in a campus lot, and he had bought a parking pass.

After they were unable to find the man, and because police knew he was agitated, police issued the "shelter in place" warning, Parrish said.

“We knew he was on campus and we knew he was already agitated,” Parrish said.

Law enforcement found the man in the Norm Asbjornson Hall, and took him into custody just after 2 p.m. As of 5 p.m. no charges had been filed against the man. 

He didn't have any guns on him, but police are aware he had access to two shotguns and a rifle. As of 2:30 p.m. police had not located the guns, MSU News Director Michael Becker said.

The campus was locked down for about 2 hours while police searched for the man. Campus was resistant to release any information but placed the campus on a “shelter-in-place” order.

“We take these types of situations extremely seriously,” Parrish said.

The initial shelter alert was sent out just before 1 p.m., and told those on campus to “seek shelter inside a room with a locking door. Close windows and blinds. Continue normal activity. Do not leave secured space until further instructions provided.”

Despite the summertime, MSU was far from empty during the alert. Summer semester session is well-underway, with a 12-week, 6-week and 4-week programs in session.

MSU Film Professor Cindy Stillwell said that when the campus alert went out she was in the Visual Communications building, about a five-minute walk across campus from Montana Hall, where the incident appeared to have begun. Stillwell said she and about 15 faculty, students and staff scuttled down the hall and locked themselves into a room where media equipment is stored. She said the group began live streaming the news from media outlets to try to find out what was happening.

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Stillwell said that in all of the 20 years she has been teaching college, this has never happened to her, but she has been worried for some time that it would.

“It’s been on my mind a lot and it makes me nervous,” Stillwell said. “We have some rooms that have doors that can’t be locked from the inside. It should be a priority on all fronts.”

Stillwell has a twin sister, novelist Christy Stillwell, who also lives in Bozeman. Christy Stillwell said she and her sister were texting back and forth.

“I was scared,” Christy Stillwell said.

MSU also hosts numerous events during the summer, but Becker did not know all the events scheduled for the day.

The campus was “pretty much deserted,” about two to three minutes after the initial shelter notice took place, except for a few visitors who weren’t aware of the alert, Becker said.

Those visitors were quickly told my campus police to take shelter. When asked the difference between a campus lock down and a shelter in place alert Becker did not know the answer.

For people visiting the campus who are not enrolled in the campus’ alert system, Becker wasn’t sure how they would quickly be alerted. The school also posted the alert on Facebook, Twitter and its website. 

The hope was that visitors to the campus would install the new Safe Cats app, which automatically sends out alerts and updates. The app launched June 11.

“Obviously we won’t catch the people who aren’t signed up, so we would hope they listen to instructions they are presented with from faculties, building managers and instructions put out in buildings or by police officers,” he said.

Becker said he couldn’t recall another “shelter in place” alert being issued by the university.

The last time the university used its alert system was in March, during a collapse of two roofs on the school’s gym, Becker said.

The Gallatin County 4-H Congress was held on campus Thursday, but all 4-H kids were accounted for and safe during the alert, according to a social media post by the group.

Campus police, the Bozeman Police Department, Gallatin County Sheriff Office's, Montana Highway Patrol, and the Gallatin County Emergency and MSU Emergency management all responded to the incident.

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The Montana Standard's Susan Dunlap and the Billings Gazette's Phoebe Tollefson contributed to this report.

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