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Series of criminal alerts leaves universities on edge

Since the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, colleges and universities across the country have stepped up their efforts to alert students of dangerous situations that could affect them. One of the most common of those efforts is an alert system that spreads messages via text message, email, and social media outlets such as Twitter. The success of such systems was heralded last week after another shooting at Virginia Tech.

Universities in North Carolina are seeing the benefits of those alerts, too. A series of incidents near UNC schools over the past two months, including an armed robbery at Western Carolina University on Wednesday, led to five campus lockdowns.

The robbery happened just after 10 a.m. at a nearby credit union. Less than two hours later police arrested a suspect on charges of armed robbery and possession of stolen property, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. As authorities searched for the man, those who had received the alerts took cover and sirens wailed across campus, letting students and staff know they should head inside. Another five messages went out after the first alert, providing updates on the robbery and any effects it would have on students.

Other state universities have also used the alerts during recent incidents, demonstrating that when a crime happens on or near campus, officials take it very seriously. A recent alert about a man with a rifle was sent out at East Carolina University, but it turned out he was only carrying an umbrella.

Campus alerts and lockdowns affect thousands of people. If a crime, especially a potentially violent one, is committed anywhere near a university, authorities will do what it takes to let everyone on campus know, and won't rest until a suspect is caught. These extra measures can lead to increased publicity of the crime, which will make a suspect's need for solid criminal defense all the more crucial.

Source:, "WCU locked-down after bank robbery," Jon Ostendorff, Dec. 15, 2011

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