Memorial University officials say social media played a big role in creating the panic surrounding a shooting incident that happened Tuesday on the St. John's campus.
The shooting occurred in the parking lot of Memorial's Field House on Westerland Road around 7 p.m. Plainclothes officers – conducting surveillance in the parking lot – tried to arrest a man who was allegedly breaking into cars.
Justin Michael Chipman, 26, is accused of getting into a stolen SUV and then speeding away, when an RNC officer fired a weapon. The RNC has not disclosed whether the stolen vehicle was coming toward officers.
Many people learned about the incident on Twitter and Facebook, which school officials said underscores the power, and the drawbacks, of social media.
"Anytime you have the words 'shots' and 'campus' in a sentence, it's a concern," said David Sorensen, manager of communications at the university.
"We take the safety of our students, our faculty, staff and visitors very seriously, so it was a bit of a shock to see that."
Sorensen said there were some tense moments for university officials, and students were kept inside the sports complex until police were confident there was no risk to the public.
According to Sorensen, some of the messages on social media weren't helpful, so university officials used Twitter in an effort to make sure people weren't getting bad information.
"It was a social media event in many ways and we tried to respond appropriately. We have some 15,000 Twitter followers and [we didn't want to] contribute to the hysteria around this incident," said Sorensen.
Sorensen said MUN only tweeted information confirmed by the police.