COLUMBIA — Two people died in an apparent murder-suicide Thursday afternoon at the University of South Carolina as alerts warned students of a shooting and law enforcement officers locked down the campus within walking distance of the Statehouse.
Investigators had not identified the two victims late Thursday, revealing few details other than the bodies remained in the building where they had been shot and that there was no “active shooter” on campus.
State police spokesman Thom Berry declined to say whether the victims were students, faculty or university employees.
The (Columbia) State newspaper reported one of those shot was Raja Fayad, head of the division of applied physiology and an expert in colon cancer at the urban campus’ Arnold School of Public Health.
Campus police received an emergency call at 12:54 p.m. and an emergency alert was sent out to the university community about 20 minutes later.
Student Hayden Dunn was in the building and said an officer got on an elevator around 1 p.m. and asked whether anyone had heard gunshots. Dunn said he hadn’t, but an alarm sounded five minutes later and everyone rushed outside.
Text and Twitter alerts went out at 1:15 p.m. and 1:28 p.m. saying there had been a shooting and to “seek safe shelter” and “obey officials.”
Dozens of heavily armed law enforcement swarmed the area and blocked off the surrounding streets as officers sought to determine if there were casualties and if a shooter was on the loose.
The campus remained on lockdown until after officers secured the building late in the afternoon and the all-clear was issued.
Students and faculty outside the building shortly afterward described a scene of remarkable calm — at least in parts of the building. People exited as a fire alarm went off, and many left their belongings inside. They thought they would soon be going back inside, they said.
Crowds gathered as close to the scene as police would allow, about a block in every direction. “Every day we’re going to have to go back there,” said Reilly Kilbride, a senior from Columbia who takes classes in the building.
“You kind of think, ‘Is this real?’” said Kelly Coghlan, a 27-year-old junior who had recently transferred to USC from Florida. “It hits you in the gut and then you just speculate.”
Giovanni Ravenell, a 21-year-old senior, said he was walking by when people were filing out. He didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until dozens of law enforcement vehicles and officers amassed at the scene.
“It seemed like it was a fire drill,” he said. “It never affects you until it happens (here).”
University officials expressed sadness at the deaths, but said they were grateful no one else was hurt or killed.
“I am also extremely thankful that the incident was isolated and did not lead to more injuries,” said Tom Chandler, dean of the public health school, the student newspaper the Daily Gamecock reported.
University President Harris Pastides thanked students, faculty and staff in a statement for their cooperation and “fast action,” noting that the grieving period would be long and counseling would be available to anyone who needed it.
“Indeed this is a tragic day in our history,” he said. “Patricia (Moore-Pastides) and I, along with the Board of Trustees, offer our condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.”
It was a somber mood Thursday night on the campus’ mostly empty horseshoe, where a counseling session was held for students.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.