California State University, Fullerton

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Let’s Spend the Night Together

Seven-hour campus lockdown tests resilience of students, faculty and staff

Dec. 17, 2012

Russell Hicks

Alum Russell Hicks of Nickelodeon keeps the students' attention while continuing his guest-speaker presentation in the “Drawing for Animation” class, even in the midst of periodic “remain where you are” announcements from the room's loudspeaker.

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The Dec. 12  long day's journey into night had its moments. A police chase of robbery suspects fleeing a Moreno Valley jewelry heist had careened onto campus late that afternoon, prompting a campus lockdown as law enforcement officers from numerous agencies conducted an extensive manhunt for those still at large, believed to be armed, dangerous and possibly hiding on campus. The buildings were locked down and outdoor areas evacuated to protect the safety of campus members and visitors. Students, staff, administrators and faculty members banded together behind locked doors and makeshift barricades to await the all-clear that came seven hours later. It proved an ordeal for some, an adventure for others, as participants shared some of their moments.

'I Am Very Proud of CSUF'

Don Lagerberg, emeritus professor of art, was among a cadre of department colleagues and about 120 students sequestered in the animation suites of the Visual Arts Center. They had gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear CSUF alum Russell Hicks, president of content development and production at Nickelodeon, discuss his work at the popular cable channel. Hicks turned his informal talk about what's nifty at Nickelodeon and his own career journey into an evening seminar and networking opportunity for animators and others. He paused only for periodic announcements from University Police that came in over the loudspeaker about the need to remain indoors, and to sip a gratefully received bottle of water offered by a student. The lockdown delivered an extra bonus: lots of face time with the former art-illustration major now recruiting talented young people to join him at Nickelodeon. "It's a good time to be you," he told them, and brought along a colleague, Karen Kirkland, to share specifics about the company's internship and apprentice programs.

Afterward, when all their questions had been answered, students passed the time by watching videos, playing computer games, sharing whatever snacks they had in their backpacks, and checking in with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter. Some even worked on their final projects for the semester.

Lagerberg's recollections of the evening:

"The students were patient, stalwart and trusting. Dana Lamb was the steady-on leader through the whole evening, reasonable and compassionate, fielding messages and handling the varied requests that were made of him ... all while keeping the Nickelodeon folks entertained ... if that's the word for it. Cliff Cramp was the rover-back, checking building access doors and making strong-voiced reassurances. Christian Hill and Chuck Grieb worked the crowd, maintaining such a positive tone that you could actually believe the worst we had to fear was boredom. Hala Swearingen kept a comfort circle right out of a Norman Rockwell.

"CSUF's emergency preparedness worked beautifully. The police presence was visible, constant and reassuring. We felt connected and informed through regular speaker messages and cell-phone and computer updates. Some of the students got more information through social media. As a result, we weren't complacent or frightened at any point. The very real concerns about safety translated into orderliness and patience ... with a little anxiety around the edges. Everyone was definitely paying attention.

"Winding down: when I finally got Karen, the lady from Nickelodeon to her car, it was raining. A young fireman came over and helped us navigate through barricades and yellow tape to her car. Karen asked him, 'How old are you?' His reply: '19.'

"I am very proud of CSUF. The crisis management teams from campus and the communities, including the fire departments, police departments, paramedics and SWAT teams, the students and the faculty all came through.

"Congratulations and thanks to all."

Cliff Cramp, professor of art, offered his reflections the next day:
"We are really proud of our illustration and animation students because of what they accomplish. Last night made me even more proud of them because they demonstrated something we knew about them, but was evident last night — character. If I'm going to be locked-down for eight hours, illustration and animation students sure are good folks to be locked down with."

Art major Anthony Pham was among them. He had baked a cake and donned a bow tie for a party that night. When it became apparent that he wouldn't be going, he gathered his classmates around for some holiday cheer. Cutting the cake into tiny pieces, topped off by whipped cream, he passed them around on small wedges of paper plates. "We're all together, and we're all safe," he said with a smile.

Easing Parental Concerns

As worried parents kept watch while news unfolded on television, they turned to social media and cell phones to connect with their sons and daughters. Many were comforted to learn that their loved ones were being protected by administrators and professors. One set of parents spoke by phone with Mitch Avila, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. He assured them that their son was fine and promised to drive him over to meet them, once the all-clear was given. The frightened parents waited at a nearby supermarket while Avila calmed the student, whose phone had lost power. Once reunited, the trio expressed their gratitude for Avila's kindness.

Plugging in With Shakespeare

Jim Volz, professor of theatre, was in the Clayes Performing Arts Center. He recounts his experience:
"Quite an evening on security lockdown for five hours in a classroom on the CSU Fullerton campus Wednesday night with a dozen Shakespeare students behind closed doors and taped-over windows while SWAT teams searched room to room for two armed robbers who decided to bail out of their car on campus. Fortunately, once the panic subsided, a marvelous Mariah Carrillo plugged her Netflix account into our smartroom computer and the now-starving class settled into "Shakespeare in Love" with the two fortune cookies, four Coke Zeros, a leftover airline packet of cuttlefish from China Air, one bag of Orville Reddenbacher popcorn, 28 Pixie-sticks, four Cokes, a can of soup and Barbara Arms' homemade holiday fudge to see us through. All safe!"

Netflix and found snacks also offered welcome diversion for Michelle Vander Veldt, associate professor of elementary and bilingual education, and 15 of her students holed up together in a room on the fourth floor of the Pollak Library.

It was presentations day in the "Early Childhood Education in Math, Science and Social Studies" course. According to Vander Veldt, it became "quite an exciting last day of class — one we will not forget."

For the presentations, they shared children's books and activities specially designed for children. After the show-and-tell ended, when they started to get hungry, they snagged the materials brought in for collage making — sunflower and pumpkin seeds — for snacks. Ingredients for an instructional unit on states of matter — how solids turn to liquids and to gas — also came in handy. "It was a root-beer float demonstration, so we all had part of a root-beer float," said Vander Veldt. "We had our treats."

Next up: a double feature, courtesy of a student's Netflix account and the projector at the ready, already hooked up to a computer for the presentations. With two members of the group planning weddings for the spring and summer of next year, the hands-down pick was "My Best Friend's Wedding," followed by "Mirror, Mirror." They only got part way through the Snow White tale before police arrived to escort them out of the library.

"They were so supportive of one another. When we first heard the announcement we were fearful," Vander Velt recalled. Then the students got busy barricading the door with furniture and telephoning loved ones. "They were really amazing, and it was good. They watched the movies and just tried to be patient," she said. "I'm really proud of that group."

Music Calms Students

For a classroom of future elementary school teachers, including one very pregnant student, the sounds of the Beatles' "Yesterday" and Spanish-language ballads helped to soothe them as the news of the lockdown spread throughout campus.

Pablo Jasis, assistant professor of elementary and bilingual education, grabbed his guitar, which he often uses in his teaching, and began to strum soft instrumental tunes as they waited it out in the Education Classroom Building. "Music can help to calm people in stressful situations," said Jasis, who also gave students snacks he had on hand.

Soon the class of 27 graduate and credential students joined him in song to tunes like Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," and they sang the chorus of Spanish-language songs he learned growing up in Argentina.

The next day, Jasis' students sent him emails thanking him for keeping them more relaxed during the long ordeal. "I just wanted to thank you. ... I'm sure I would've felt much more nervous if I wasn't with you and our block [class]," Nancy Hua wrote. Student Kacey Kim also wrote: "You have such a kindness and a heart for our class. Thank you for keeping us calm and singing songs to us last night, feeding us and ensuring that we were safe!"

For Jasis, he was glad he was there for his students, including one far along in her pregnancy. He worried about the added stress it meant for her. "We just turned this moment of danger into something much nicer. Everyone supported each other. ... It was an evening to remember: full of solidarity and concern for all of us at CSUF."

Her Top 10

Maria Cominis, a lecturer in theatre and dance who directed the recent production of "Metamorphoses," was among faculty members who combined classes to find strength in numbers. Her reflections on the experience include a top-10 list of "lessons learned while in an emergency.

"I normally dismiss class at 3:45 p.m., but this was our last meeting, so we ran over and just missed our opportunity to not be caught in the lockdown. However, based on the experience I had with students, it was actually beneficial and allowed me to have conversations with students I wouldn't normally have.

"At first, all of us were pretty terrified.Your mind initially goes to 'sniper on the loose,' but once one of the students was able to get a square or two of wireless connection, we learned about the situation, and this somehow calmed everyone down."

"What I learned from this experience:

"Lessons learned while in an emergency

  1. Bring cell phone always and have a backup charger
  2. Have an emergency stash of food for at least 20 people. (I did.)
  3. Have a stash of water.
  4. Keep your sense of humor.
  5. Don't stop asking questions.
  6. Act rationally.
  7. Don't blame others who are trying to help you.
  8. Keep in contact with loved ones.
  9. Have conversations you never would have had, if not in the situation.
  10. There is strength in numbers."


By: Paula Selleck, 657-278-4856