A current of worry and unease ran through Isla Vista Saturday night as rumors of a shooting threat and lockdowns made their way through the seaside college town. The reports turned out to be untrue and there was no immediate threat to residents, but the false alarm stirred painful memories of last May’s shooting rampage that left three victims dead and many more wounded.
Lt. Ryan Smith with the UCSB police department said that earlier in the evening, his office was made aware of a “concerning” social media post. Smith couldn’t go into detail because a detective is still investigating the matter, but he said it made no direct threats toward UCSB or Isla Vista.
However, someone either saw the posting or heard about it before it was removed, Smith said, because students and residents started discussing it via Facebook and text messages. “It took off like wildfire,” Smith said, noting how the exchanges soon became distorted and exaggerated to the point that some believed there was an active shooter in Isla Vista. “It was like a game of telephone,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was trying to be malicious, but the rumor took on a life of its own.”
Independent intern and IV resident Julia Clark-Riddell said she had heard from friends and through social media that UCSB’s dorms were on lockdown and that authorities were warning residents not to leave their homes because of a possible shooting. “As of 10:15 p.m., nothing has happened,” Clark-Riddell wrote in an email, “but people are scared and unhappy.” UCSB’s student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, was the first media outlet to provide official statements from police through its Twitter feed.
Smith said the department increased patrols in town and on campus to assure people there were no current threats, but he explained his office declined to issue a community-wide UCSB Alert — which sends emails and text messages to subscribers — because the system is reserved for true emergencies. He said if there actually was some kind of attack taking place, sending an alert would be one of the department’s first orders of business.
Smith acknowledged it was unfortunate the misinformation spread so fast and wide — his department and the Sheriff’s Office fielded a number of calls from students, parents, and others panicked about what they’d heard — but he said it was an opportunity to remind the community at large that “if you’re not getting an alert from us, it’s safe to say there’s not an emergency.”