A man who police say was walking around the Carroll University campus Tuesday with an airsoft-style gun is in custody following an incident that resulted in 90-minute lockdown at the college and surrounding schools.
The lockdown was put into place around 10:30 a.m., after Waukesha received a call from from Carroll security saying that several students reported seeing a man in his 50s or 60s carrying a shotgun or rifle on the northwest side of the campus, police said.
By noon, the suspect — a 50-year-old Waukesha man — was located off campus in an apartment building within blocks of the incident, and was taken into custody without incident.
The weapon was later located and determined to be an airsoft weapon, which is similar to a BB gun and is not designed to be lethal, police said.
Police are continuing the investigation as they learn more information about why the man was carrying the facsimile firearm through campus.
“At this point, we have to look into what he did and whether it is illegal,” Waukesha Police Capt. Ron Oremus said. “If it was a firearm, we can tell you that you aren’t allowed to carry that within 1,000 feet of a school by state law. As far as him carrying an airsoft gun, I am not sure if there was anything illegal. We will be looking into that.”
Carroll University does not allow weapons on its campus. Additionally, it is difficult to distinguish visually between facsimile firearms and a real rifle.
“It absolutely can look identical (to a rifle),” Oremus said. “As a firearms instructor, I can tell you that you wouldn’t tell the difference until you handle a weapon.”
Mass response from area agencies
Tactical vehicles from the Waukesha Police Department and Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department were on scene, as well as the Menomonee Falls K-9 Unit, the Waukesha Fire Department and the FBI.
The non-lethal airsoft-style gun was recovered at the man’s nearby apartment where they located him. Police believe he walked to his home through the Carroll campus.
Students reported seeing a man with a gun walking near the tennis courts and Barstow building, according to an alert text message to students from the school.
A second text message sent to students said, "Remain inside your building, subject described as a male in his 50s, brown jacket, black hat, last seen walking west from Barstow Street towards Grand."
A third message canceled classes, and told students who were home to stay there, and those on campus to stay put.
Students receved the notifications from Caroll's PioAlert system, designed to provide instant messages to students, staff and faculty.
At no time were Carroll students, staff or faulty in danger, the university said.
“The PioAlert system worked perfectly,” said Theresa Barry, vice president of student affairs, said in a statement. “Students received key information immediately and followed the directions of law enforcement professionals.”
Weapons are not allowed on campus, though Airsoft guns were permitted under supervision for a club several years ago, saidMichael Zens, director of public safety at Carroll.
“Given yesterday’s events and the recent history at schools, we take these things very seriously,” Oremus said. “We obviously responded in that way, took it very seriously and took the subject into custody. … Obviously in today’s day and age, we have to take these threats very seriously, as we did.”
Neighbors react to incident
Donna Neufang Landwehr, who lives on campus ,said there were a lot of police cars on the streets.
"Grand Avenue is blocked off," she wrote on Waukesha Patch's Facebook page. "Students still outside, but as I was walking my dog about five minutes ago a student told me they had been alerted and that everyone was to stay inside if at all possible."
Amanda Michell said on Facebook Central Middle School was on lockdown. A woman also said on Facebook that Saratoga Stem Academy was on lockdown. St. Mary's and Catholic Memorial High School was on lockout.
Carroll University student Kara Henderlight was walking to her car after class when she received a text notification about a gunman on campus at 10:39 a.m.
“I got the text and ran to my car. Holy crap, my car was right next to Barstow so I just ran to my car as fast as I could. I sat there for a minute, I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t know what to do. I thought about it and I left.”
Henderlight was worried about her friends who were still on campus.
“The teachers were shutting the windows and were putting the blackboards up against the board to make sure nobody gets in,” Henderlight said about her friends’ classes.