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APRIL 2009

Top Story - Downtown shooting impacts University community


From Inside BU

MemorialFrom police work to counseling to memorials, the University community offered response and support in the wake of the April 3 shootings at the American Civic Association in Binghamton.

The shootings, which took place off campus in a building a half-mile from the University Downtown Center, left 14 dead, including the gunman. Among those killed were two visiting research scholars, Li Guo of China and Almir Alves of Brazil, and Maria Zobniw '70, a Harpur College of Arts and Sciences graduate. A sister of a current student was also killed, and a visiting research scholar was injured.

“This tragedy strikes at our campus community on a personal — and global — level,” President Lois B. DeFleur said in an April 5 message after police released the victims’ names. “As an international institution that attracts students and scholars from around the world, it is particularly devastating.”

Initial response and support came from University Police, who heard about the Front Street incident via police radio.

“We were immediately concerned for our downtown campus facility,” University Police Chief John Schwartz said. “We assigned three uniformed police officers to the building.”

An investigator also was assigned to the command post at the scene to get information that could be relayed to Schwartz and others at the department.

Once University Police had additional officers at the Downtown Center and learned that Binghamton police had surrounded the crime scene with the shooter inside the civic building, the Office of Communications and Marketing sent information to the campus community via Dateline, B-Line, home page updates, e-mail, text and phone messages, Facebook and Twitter. The University received special permission to use the N.Y. Alert system, Schwartz said, as the emergency was not happening at a University facility.

“We wanted to make sure we were giving out accurate information,” Schwartz said. “You’ve got to have an assessment of what’s happening at the scene.”

University Police also worked to find translators on the day of the shootings and assisted Binghamton police in the following days.

On the night of the shootings, Ellen Badger, director of International Student and Scholar Services, sent an e-mail to international students and some alumni, faculty and staff asking them to notify ISSS if they were aware of anyone with campus ties at the civic building that day. Many of those inside were taking English classes.

“When a tragedy like this occurs, your principal feeling is ‘How I can help? What do you need?’” Badger said.

Badger and ISSS were subsequently able to contact people who left the building, including spouses of international students, and offered to help them connect with University services such as counseling.

“You begin to get a sense of the magnitude of the loss and how enormous this tragedy was on so many levels,” Badger said.

Counseling Center work started the day of the shootings when the staff heard that students in the library were watching television coverage of the tragedy.

“We sent our staff over to walk around and see how people were doing,” Counseling Center Director Elizabeth Droz said.

Counseling continued over the weekend. Badger and Droz visited friends of Alves, offering support for the phone call the friends would make to the scholar’s wife in Brazil.

ISSS and Badger also worked with government agencies, foreign officials and campus groups such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association to help bring family members of the deceased and the injured to Binghamton.

“I think the University does an excellent job in a crisis of meeting the needs of those who have been harmed,” Badger said. “But this is training I hope I never have to use again.”

The Counseling Center and Employee Assistance Program held an open meeting on April 6, for faculty, staff, students still in the area during spring break and others to discuss the tragedy. The Counseling Center and EAP provided outreach at the Downtown Center, Droz said, and the Counseling Center also used different mechanisms to help people. A yoga class was offered April 9 and the Counseling Center’s website was updated with advice on handling stress and coping with grief.

The University’s website also was updated with information about how to help victims and additional campus connections to the injured or dead as they were discovered.

The first campus memorial was held April 9, as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and the Southern Tier Chinese Culture Association presented a candlelight ceremony at the Dickinson Amphitheater. A University ceremony, which included placing flowers in the Memorial Courtyard, was held April 14 in the Grand Corridor of the Fine Arts Building. Later that evening, the Student Association held a vigil between the Library fountain and the University Union.

Badger and Droz spoke of how important it is to honor those who worked to improve their lives.

“We don’t forget the people who have died,” Droz said. “We don’t forget that something bad happened. But we need to remember. … How can we take this energy that people have and channel it in positive ways? This is a long-term issue. How do we help these families and people? What happens next?”

“The American Civic Association isn’t a church; it isn’t a mosque and it isn’t a synagogue,” Badger said. “It is a sanctuary for people from all over the world to come and learn and be safe. … I am so sad that this civil sanctuary was violated. But there’s a lot of love among the people in that building. Whether these programs re-open in that building or somewhere in the community, there will be another sanctuary.”

Read President Lois B. DeFleur's April 5 message.

See additional information and updates.about the tragedy.

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Last Updated: 11/12/13