Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins said Bryant A. Hairston of Martinsville was taken into custody and before a magistrate after allegedly admitting his report of seeing a gunman at or near one of the college’s residence halls was a hoax. Hairston was charged with falsely summoning an officer and taken to the regional jail at Duffield.
Hairston was also served a second warrant on a charge of misdemeanor assault and battery. Elkins said Hairston was accused earlier in the evening by a female of assault. Elkins said Hairston told authorities "it was his motivation for the hoax" because "he said people would say he was a good guy by saving all these people" instead of judging him solely on the basis of the earlier alleged assault.
The campus lockdown was touched off at about 9 p.m. Wednesday when Hairston allegedly called 911 to report seeing a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a handgun near Culbertson Hall, one the of college’s student dorms. The response from campus police, several municipal police departments, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police was swift, with officers swarming the campus searching for an armed individual.
The college went into immediate lockdown status as well, with students securing themselves in their dorm rooms, classrooms, student center or wherever they, and college employees, happened to be to shelter in place until the all clear was sounded about two hours later.
About an hour into the campus search by a small army of law enforcement personnel, Wise County Sheriff Ronnie Oakes told the Times-News determining the validity of the report was one aspect of law enforcement’s response. At around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Oakes said Hairston admitted to authorities the report was a hoax.
The Virginia State Police said while the search was under way, "special agents with the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office were interviewing the student who made the report. During the course of the interview, the student confessed that it was a hoax."
Law enforcement agencies responding to the incident included the college’s on-campus police, the police departments of the towns of Wise and Pound, Wise County Sheriff’s deputies and VSP troopers.
On Thursday, Oakes and UVa-Wise spokeswoman Kathy Still praised the response and teamwork displayed by area law enforcement personnel.
"We did what we could as far as locking the place down and with the searches of the buildings and grounds," Oakes said. "Everyone did everything that was needed. There were no disagreements between the agencies. It was just a great overall performance from all the agencies."
Still said UVa-Wise maintains a mutual aid agreement with area law enforcement "and their response last night was amazing. And our students responded well to our alert system. They got inside and sheltered in place the way they were supposed to and we couldn’t be more proud of them. And of course we are very grateful to all the law enforcement who responded."
There are just over 2,000 students attending UVa-Wise, and 800 or so stay in campus residence halls. The college is just a leisurely stroll from the downtown sector of Wise presided over by the stately Wise County Courthouse, a campus quite handy to the Sheriff’s Office and Town of Wise Police Department.
Oakes said diverting law enforcement over a hoax could leave other sectors of the public unprotected for a time, and carries expenses such as "so many man- hours" diverted to a needless cause.
Later Thursday, UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna Henry praised law enforcement as well.
"We are disappointed that a UVa-Wise student would fabricate a report of a gunman on campus, especially after recent national events, but we remain grateful that it was just a hoax and that no one was hurt," she said.
"The swift action of our campus police, Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Wise Town Police and Virginia State Police was comforting to our students, faculty and staff. They took charge of the situation early on and worked together throughout the incident. The college’s Crisis Management Team quickly notified campus as events unfolded last night, and our students took the warnings seriously and stayed safely inside our buildings as law enforcement searched the campus."
While Oakes said he hopes the courts will "set an example so this won’t happen again," there may have been a sliver of a silver lining in what occurred.
"It was something of a training drill I suppose, but it’s just sad that an individual would do something like this where someone might be hurt or even killed in a situation like that," Oakes said. "But it’s something where maybe we can assess things and can learn from it and move on from there."