Last month, Syracuse University averted a potential school shooting, thanks to the vigilance of the local community: From a gun store owner, maintenance worker, friends, to local and federal law enforcement.
A 22 year-old student from China was attending Syracuse University on a student visa. In March, he displayed suspicious behavior that led to an investigation by authorities.
It began on March 12th when a gun store owner in Nelson, New York, Mr. John Laubscher, was assisting this student. Laubscher was not unfamiliar with SU students-many came to his shop to purchase archery equipment and hunting rifles. Foreign students can purchase firearms with a valid hunting license. This student had just received his hunting license and asked Mr. Laubscher about purchasing an AR-15 rifle. Laubscher said that type of rifle is not available in New York, so the student began to look at high capacity shotguns.
He immediately became suspicious of the student, since those type of firearms are not typically used for hunting at that time of year. He said he wasn’t sure what gun to purchase, but was going to learn through a class at SU. As a SU alum, Laubscher knew full well there was not a high-capacity firearms class there. The store owner refused to sell him any weapons. Once he left the store, Laubscher contacted the police to report the incident, noting his license plate number as the student sat in his car.
The student left shortly after that day to go to Mexico with friends for Spring Break. Meanwhile, authorities were able to trace the car to the student’s apartment.
Local law enforcement began an investigation into the student’s background and found he had been in two psychiatric care facilities recently, the records noting drinking, suicidal thoughts, depression, and could lose control and commit violence toward no one in particular. Officials placed him on a list that prohibited stores from selling him a gun.
A maintenance worker at the apartment complex where the student was residing contacted the police. An alarm had went off in his room. When the employee investigated the source of the alarm and found that no one was there, he used his master key to enter the room. In the apartment he found ammunition.
Several friends who were in Mexico contacted SU to report concerning behavior from the student. He had told others “The reason I want to buy guns is not to go hunting….I might do something extreme in the future.”, as well as: “I might use the gun to cause trouble, I have been preparing.”
These reports were enough evidence to be granted a warrant by the judge. On March 19, police searched the student’s apartment and found several rounds of ammunition and gun accessories, including gunsights and a laser scope. No firearms were found. Authorities gave an involuntary order to commit him to a psychiatric hospital. However, that order would never be fulfilled.
Syracuse University revoked his status as a student, thus his visa became invalid. As he returned to Newark Airport from his spring break vacation in Mexico, he was immediately detained by federal agents and deported back to China. They contacted officials in China to report the information gathered on the student. It is unclear what has become of the student in his homeland.
While this potential crisis was averted, Syracuse Deputy Police Chief Derek McGork noted that despite the vigilance of the community and law enforcement, it still took 6 days to obtain a warrant to search the student’s apartment, and the student was out of the country while police caught up with his whereabouts. Despite the length of time it took, it can be agreed that through the numerous reports, which one report alone would not have been enough to obtain the warrant, as well as law enforcement’s response to the threat, helped to mitigate this potential tragedy.