By CARL SMITH
As Mississippi State University students move into their respective residence halls for the start of another academic year, school officials say on-campus safety remains a top priority.
To maintain a safe and secure campus, officials say students themselves must use common sense, report suspicious activities and essentially invest themselves in the idea.
MSU President Mark Keenum said meetings between campus officials and dorm residents have begun discussing these ideas and campus safety measures.
“The safety and well-being of students is paramount at MSU,” Keenum said. “We started working on move-in day with student affairs and housing, talking with freshmen and first-time students about security issues. We’ve talked about the importance of using common sense and being smart about individual safety, as well as the safeguards we have here.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about shared responsibility,” MSU Housing and Residence Life Director Ann Bailey said. “We can do all we can from a safety standpoint, but our residents have to do their part as well and they have to be invested in safety and security.”
In March, the university’s crisis management and emergency response systems were put to their biggest test after a 21-year-old student was killed in a residence hall and a subsequent manhunt began.
On March 24, John D. Sanderson, of Madison, was shot and killed in an Evans Hall dorm room. Following an almost 64-hour search, authorities in three different states arrested three suspects in connection with the homicide. Mason Perry Jones, 21, of Jackson, was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force in Memphis, Tenn. after fleeing the state on a Greyhound bus; Duntae Harvey, 21, of Jackson, surrendered peacefully at a Jackson apartment complex to marshals; and Trent Deundra Crump, 21, of Flowood, surrendered to Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies in Florida after escaping Mississippi by automobile. All three were charged with capital murder with the sale of a controlled substance as the underlying charge and were extradited to Mississippi.
During the investigation, university officials said the three suspects and Sanderson gained access to Evans Hall by a dorm occupant — Sanderson was a resident of Rice Hall, while the three suspects were not MSU students. Privacy laws prevented officials from releasing the names of the room’s occupants, and MSUPD Chief Georgia Lindley declined to comment on the relationship between the occupants, Sanderson and the three suspects. Lindley did say no charges are expected to be filed against the dorm’s occupants.
Top-level MSU officials began an extensive review of university protocols, safety procedures and communication efforts following the shooting. Despite the outcome of the incident, university officials say the emergency policies in place at the time functioned as expected and no new policies on dorm safety or crisis management were developed due to the isolated nature of the shooting.
“In the immediate aftermath, we reviewed how our response went. Most of our systems worked extremely well, but we are always working to make response faster,” Bill Kibler, MSU vice president for student affairs, said. “It was a reaffirmation, I think, that we felt like our communication was good, our response time was good and our ability to get information out worked well.
“Personal safety is high on our agenda here,” he added. “We had some questions (during the investigation) as to whether or not we had a breach of our security systems. The answer is no — (the suspects) were invited on campus and let in by a resident who lived in the building.”
Keenum said law enforcement’s swift involvement and pursuit of the suspects reflects the university’s ability to react to crisis situations.
“You never hope you have to respond to this sort of crisis, but we did and we did it well. You always learn from any incident, and we did learn about how we are able to effectively respond,” Keenum said. “I’m proud of the way MSU police responded, led the investigation and the rapid apprehension of the alleged assailants.”