TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gunshots rattled a peaceful, packed Florida State University library early Thursday, with three students getting hurt as hundreds more huddled between bookshelves before police encountered and killed the gunman outside.
“There has been a shooting in the library, stay where you are,” said a man speaking over the loudspeaker, as captured in a cell phone video posted online. “We will be coming to each floor and clearing it, and taking care of anybody.”
One of the injured students is in critical condition and another is stable at Tallahassee Memorial hospital, the hospital said. The third victim, who was grazed by a bullet, was treated and released at the scene.
Officers from the Florida State and Tallahassee police departments responded within 3 to 5 minutes of the first reports of gunfire, according to Mayor-elect Andrew Gillum.
Once there, they found the shooter outside Strozier Library and asked him to drop his handgun.
“The suspect did not comply with the commands, and actually shot at one of the officers,” Tallahassee police spokesman David Northway said. “They returned fire, and the subject was killed.”
The school canceled all classes and exams Thursday in the wake of the shooting, offering counseling services to those directly and indirectly affected.
Meanwhile, investigators are surveying the scene and interviewing witnesses — trying to determine exactly what happened and for what reason, something that Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo acknowledged they don’t know yet.
“Obviously everyone wants to know why,” DeLeo said. “That’s the hard answer we’re going to continue to investigate.”
Tables, book shelves become barricades
Final exams don’t start until December but, still, 300 to 400 students filled Strozier Library around 12:30 a.m. Thursday — cramming, reading and writing.
Then came the gunshots, following quickly by texts sent out to students warning them to take refuge and stay away from windows. There were warnings inside the library as well, where students huddled anxiously.
“If you know somebody who has a gun or you know somebody who has been shot, call 911,” said the man over the library loudspeaker.
Kelly Kalich was on the library’s third floor — studying, coincidentally, why school shootings happen — when someone ran up the stairs and yelled out, “There’s a gunman, there’s a gunman.”
She didn’t run automatically, but eventually grabbed her phone and did get out.
“Nothing goes through your head besides astonishment,” Kalich said. “Your jaw drops because … when you’re in a large place like that, that’s always your biggest fear.”
Students took action by shoving tables and bookshelves against doors to barricade themselves. They also reached out to loved ones in tweets and texts, including Samantha Sillick, who messaged her father, “There’s a man with a gun in the library. I love you.”
Perry Kostidakis, a sports editor for the campus newspaper, told CNN the library was surrounded for a time.
“The entire campus is empty; I’ve seen one or two people come up and look at the scene. Everyone who is in a campus building is under lockdown right now. Policemen are still surrounding the library.”
Graduate student Alex Lauren said students were escorted from the library to the first floor of a nearby building, where they continued hearing gunshots. They were told to wait for a bus to take them away from campus as armed police stood nearby.
“It was very scary … I’m more heartbroken more than anything else,” she said. “It’s sad, my heart goes out to the people affected.”
Police call shooting ‘an isolated incident’
Afterward, DeLeo assured the public that the shooting “is an isolated incident and one person acting alone.”
“There is no indication of any threats to the university, the students or our community at this time,” the police chief said.
Homicide investigators, meanwhile, took over the scene around the library. Five officers from Florida State and Tallahassee police were placed on administrative leave, as is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.
As bad as the shooting was, there was also some feeling that it could have been much worse — especially if police didn’t respond as quickly as they did.
“If there is any positive that we can take from this occurrence, it’s that the victim count was not greater,” Gillum said. “Today, we are all FSU.”
Meanwhile, the ripple effect was felt all around Florida State, a research university with about 40,000 students spread out in various campuses in the Sunshine State’s capital.
Mary Coburn, the university’s vice president for student affairs, said the decision to cancel classes came after “we learned the scope of the situation.”
“It became evident that there was a lot of impact on the students, and that seemed the wise thing to do,” Coburn told reporters.
Campus buildings, including Strozier Library, should reopen by Friday, and all events scheduled through this weekend will proceed, according to FSU President John Thrasher.
There will be many, though, who will still be recovering physically and psychologically — and not just the students who were wounded or in the library.
As Kalich said, “Yes, the students (who) were in the library were affected. But 40,000 students lost their sense of security.”
– CNN’s Nick Valencia reported from Tallahassee, and Greg Botelho and Faith Karimi wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN’s Jethro Mullen, Rick Martin, Anjali Tsui, Ed Payne and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.