Authorities at a Florida university believe they thwarted an attack on their campus by a student armed with assault weapons and explosives.
James Oliver Seevakumaran killed himself with a single gunshot to the head as police arrived at a dormitory building at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, in the early hours of Monday.
“His timeline got off,” Richard Beary, the UCF police chief, said at an afternoon press conference. “We think the rapid response of law enforcement may have changed his ability to think quickly on his feet.”
According to Beary, Seevakumaran, 30, pulled a gun on one of his three roommates in Tower 1 of the university’s dormitories shortly after midnight. The student called 911.
At about the same time, Seevakumaran set off the seven-storey building’s fire alarm, a ploy, Beary believes, to get students out into the open where they would be easy targets for an attack.
On reaching Seevakumaran’s room, officers found a pistol, an assault weapon and what police described as improvised explosive devices in a bag.
University officials were in the process of removing Seevakumaran from the halls of residence for anti-social behaviour, according to spokesman Grant Heston.
Although he was no longer enrolled as a student, Seevakumaran had been allowed to remain as a temporary resident of the building on compassionate grounds, Mr Heston added. He said the man was not suspected of violent tendencies, nor was he known to possess weapons.
Police records show an arrest in 2006 for driving with a suspended licence. He was fined $105 and ordered to pay more than $200 court costs.
About 500 students were evacuated from the building early Monday and classes were cancelled for the morning. “It’s a tragedy, but it’s not an unspeakable tragedy,” UCF president John Hitt told the press conference. “A life was lost, but it was the life of the perpetrator.”
UCF police and officers from the Orange County sheriff’s department, including its bomb squad, made the building safe and it reopened at noon. A team of FBI investigators and a hazmat team were also on site.
“University police responded immediately when we received a fire alarm call and a subsequent 911 call,” Beary said. “The safety of our students in Tower 1 and our entire campus community is our top priority.”
Students and staff were told to stay away while the university opened its sports arena as a gathering point for those evacuated from the residence tower, with food and counsellors available.
Some residents of the evacuated tower said there was no announcement other than the fire alarm sounding, although they said police were already on the scene when they left the building. About two hours after the discovery of the body, students said, they received a text message from the university informing them of “a suspicious death” and that there was “no threat to the campus community”. The message made no mention of weapons or explosives.
“Usually if there’s a bomb threat or anything we get a text, but there was nothing of the sort. Everyone in the apartment thought it was just a fire so we just grabbed whatever we could and ran downstairs,” Hank Kleinberg, an English major, told campus newspaper the Central Florida Future.
“I am kind of glad they got me out of the building because I hear assault weapons, explosives … [I'm] a mix of relieved and frustrated.”
With about 60,000 students, UCF is among the largest 10 universities in the US by enrolment numbers. Founded in 1963, its size has increased by almost half over the past decade.