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Dispatch Logs Show the Horror of Michigan State Shooting

One of the thousands of calls that flooded into Ingham's central dispatch on the night of Feb. 13 could lead to felony charges after a man claimed he was friends with the MSU shooter and had placed explosives on campus.

Thousands gather for a Michigan State University vigil to honor and remember the student victims involved in a campus shooting on Feb. 13, in East Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 15, 2023. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News/TNS)
Daniel Mears/TNS
(TNS) - Panicked witness accounts, worried parents and one false report detailing a threat of explosives on campus consumed a team of Ingham County 911 dispatchers as they dealt with more than 2,000 phone calls on the frantic night of the Michigan State University mass shooting, newly released 911 audio and call log documents revealed.

According to authorities, one of the thousands of calls that flooded into Ingham's central dispatch on the night of Feb. 13 could lead to felony charges after a man claimed he was friends with the MSU shooter and had placed explosives on campus.

Eleven dispatchers were on duty that night, but their ranks grew to 29 as they began to field calls after Lansing resident Anthony McRae opened fire in a campus classroom and the nearby Union, killing three students and wounding five. A written log of those phone calls and audio recordings of calls placed within the first 45 minutes of the shooting were released this week in response to public records requests by The Detroit News and Bridge Michigan.

The documents and recordings provide a more complete picture of the fear that gripped the East Lansing campus after the shooting and the mounting tension at central dispatch as phone lines blared and the shooter remained loose for roughly three hours.

Some callers reported harrowing descriptions of violence from those who witnessed the shootings in Berkey Hall's Room 114 and the Union. Other calls came from people far from the scene, including sheltering students asking where the shootings occurred and concerned parents asking how to keep their children safe.

In all, dispatchers received the equivalent of two and a half days' worth of calls between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. After the initial calls from witnesses at Berkey Hall and the Union, few provided dispatchers with information that led them to victims or McRae. Other people reported their suspicions of passing vehicles and pedestrians. Others worried explosives had been placed around campus.

MSU Police Chief Chris Rozman said the one call in which dispatchers were told the caller was a friend of the shooter and had placed explosives on campus was a false report of a crime, and the caller was not associated with the shooter. The call is under investigation.

But Rozman acknowledged it's challenging to receive calls that don't yield information.

"We acknowledge and understand that people want information," he said. "If people don't have information to provide us, we would prefer that they monitor other methods of police communication."

Aside from the fake call, each report that night was important, said Barb Davidson, 911 director of Ingham County central dispatch.

"In talking to folks, people were giving us information that they truly believed was relevant to helping this event be resolved," Davidson said. "They were so scared; they wanted to talk to somebody who knew what was happening. That is a role we play quite a bit. ... That is our job: To be helpful and empathetic."

Dispatchers guide terrified students through the chaos

The audio recordings were released after The Detroit News fought for their release after first being denied a Freedom of Information Act request. The newspaper then appealed and petitioned the Ingham County Board of Commissioners to release the calls. The board agreed to their release in March.

The audio recordings and call log records support the timeline of events earlier provided by MSU police. The recordings of some calls from Berkey Hall are not timestamped, but police said the first shooting occurred at 8:18 p.m. Callers reported a shooting at the Union at 8:26 p.m., and by 8:27 p.m., dispatchers told callers that officers were at Berkey Hall.

The university sent an alert at 8:30 p.m. instructing students to shelter in place. Sparrow's trauma team had been activated by 8:35 p.m., according to a recording.

A witness reported seeing someone matching the police's description of McRae walking on Lake Lansing Road at 11:35 p.m. McRae died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at 11:49 p.m.

Many of the calls to dispatchers came from students sheltering together in close quarters in bathrooms, basements and storage closets. Twenty people hid on the second floor of the Engineering Building. A dance team packed into a closet in the Union. Twenty-eight were in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps room in Dem Hall. On the third floor of the Human Ecology building, 75 packed into a bathroom; at 10:38 p.m., they told a dispatcher it was getting hot and some people felt like they were going to pass out.

Dispatchers repeated the same instructions throughout the audio recordings: Lock and barricade the doors; don't let anyone inside unless certain police or emergency responders are on the other side of the door. And for students inside the buildings where the shootings had taken place: Try to escape.

Other moments revealed problems endured by callers trying to stay protected.

A caller from another group who was at an event in the STEM Building talked to a dispatcher at 8:43 p.m. When the dispatcher told the caller to lock down, the caller replied, "The classroom doors don't lock."

At 8:45 p.m., a caller reported being locked down in the basement of the Natural Sciences Building with a group of 30 students. Two hours later, students in the building were still calling 911. At 10:45 p.m., the dispatch log records a call from "NATURAL SCIENCE IN STORAGE CLOSET WITH 40 PEOPLE." Ten minutes later, another caller from the basement of the Natural Sciences building said they were "unable to barricade door because it opens outward."

False report of explosives

Around 10:30 p.m., 911 dispatch received two calls that referenced explosives on campus, including one that suggested the shooter might have called. "SHOOTER ON TX (the phone)," according to the dispatcher's call log, at 10:28 p.m. "SHOOTER ADV THEY PLACED EXPLOSIVES IN BUILDINGS ON CAMPUS. SHOWING ACCIDENT FUND AS THE BUSINESS. VOICE SOUNDED TO BE A MALE."

The call log also reflected a 10:35 p.m. call from a man who "heard a van show up to the loading dock at Owen Hall West and believes explosives were placed around there now."

That was a legitimate call from someone who had good intentions of sharing what he thought he saw, but it was determined to be inaccurate, Rozman said.

"We investigated that and identified the vehicle involved, and it was not what the person thought they were looking at," he said. "That's the big difference there. That person was a legitimate reporter, but it was inaccurate."

Rozman, however, said the earlier call was "concerning." Police do not believe McRae called them or anyone else.

"We know that through investigations to be a false call, a false report of a crime that was not associated with the shooter, and that incident is currently being investigated as a false report," Rozman said.

No one has been arrested, Rozman said, and the call is part of an ongoing investigation under Michigan law that makes it a felony to make a false report of a terrorist act.

"We learned from our federal partners during this investigation (that) often during an event of this magnitude that attracts national attention, sometimes people who are unrelated to the event use the event as a way to spread false or misinformation to amplify the crisis," Rozman said. "Apparently, once something hits the national networks and is a news story, some people who have nefarious intentions that are not affiliated with the event use it as an opportunity to cause additional chaos."

Katherine Schweit, a former FBI agent, expert on mass shootings and an MSU alumna, said it's not always known why people call in false threats during actual tragic events.

“Perhaps it's because they want to be part of the story," Schweit said. "Perhaps it’s because they want to be mischievous and cause more chaos. Law enforcement and 911 operators are well aware. They will get a series of calls, including ones where people might say, 'I'm the shooter. I know the shooter. My child is the shooter. My husband is the shooter.'"

Concerned parents flood the lines

Fourteen of the first 66 calls came from students' parents. Some wanted to tell dispatchers their children had told them about a shooting on campus. Others asked what their children should do if they were in a parking lot, hiding in the bushes or on a bus. One insisted the dispatcher give her more information about the shooting.

"I know this isn't the answer you want to hear, but you're going to have to wait for an officer to call you and make contact with you, OK?" said the dispatcher, repeating that the department couldn't offer any additional details.

Dispatchers will give information to callers to keep those callers safe, said April Heinze, 9-1-1 and PSAP operations director for the National Emergency Number Association. That would include directions to barricade doors during a mass shooting, for example, she said.

But dispatchers need to keep the phone lines clear in case someone calls to offer information that leads police to a suspect or victim.

"Obviously, if you have an emergency, call," Heinze said. "If you have any type of situation that you feel is an emergency, when in doubt, call. But in the event that you do not have an emergency situation at that time, it's best to hold off and call back later."

Three MSU students were killed and five were hospitalized during the tragedy. Killed were 19-year-old Arielle Anderson of Harper Woods, 20-year-old Brian Fraser of Grosse Pointe and 20-year-old Alexandria Verner of Clawson.

Those who were hospitalized after sustaining severe injuries were MSU student Troy Forbush, 22, who took a bullet to the chest and underwent emergency surgery; Nate Statly, a 20-year-old junior with a severe head injury; John Hao, a 20-year-old student from China who was paralyzed from the waist down; and Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez, a junior who underwent at least one surgery and faced two more. A fifth student was wounded but not identified.

The shooting brought 46 law enforcement and 30 fire/EMS agencies from the region to assist MSU Police, some as far away as Oakland and Kent counties.

One call that stood out to Ingham County's Davidson was from a young woman who called from her dorm, scared and crying.

"Her voice sounded very similar to my own daughter," said Davidson, the 911 director. "That hit a little close to home."

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