Students left without notification of nearby shooting

Written by Crystal Olmedo and James Williams

The Riverside Community College District failed to inform students of an incident, which was initially reported by some to be an active shooter situation, that occurred next to the district’s new plaza.

A man was shot in the head at White Park on Feb. 29 and two suspects were at large until March 2.

Faculty, staff and administrators were notified via email by RCCD Chancellor Michael Burke more than an hour after the shooting took place.

In the email Burke reported the state of the investigation of the shooting at White Park and that the District Offices and other downtown buildings had undergone a temporary lockdown.

According to RCCD Director of Risk Management Michael Simmons, this was for informational purposes only. Students did not receive any notification of the lockdown or the shooting.

Simmons spoke with Viewpoints after being redirected following an attempt to reach Burke was unsuccessful.

An RCCD community service officer was one of the first on the scene and rendered aid to the victim. RCCD dispatch was alerted by a someone who was in the Centennial Plaza at the time of the shooting, according to Simmons.

Simmons said that there are contingencies to activating the mass notification system or Rave portal. The Rave portal uses phone numbers and emails listed for students, staff and faculty currently employed with or enrolled at an RCCD campus.

If Rave was activated, members of unified team college administration, the Chancellor’s office, Risk Management, Safety and Police would determine the emergency type, the group or facility to be notified and the message type, including text, phone, email or digital signage.

The last update received by the emergency notification system was a test alert conducted on Oct. 15 and, it reached about 80,000 contacts, according to Simmons.

“The mass notification system would be activated if there was … imminent danger to the district or college constituents (students, faculty and staff),” Simmons said. “If the danger was unknown to them, the mass notification system would be required in order to notify them that they are in imminent danger. If the emergency communication would be necessary to prevent injury or death to the district or college constituency.”

RCCD Interim Police Chief Colleen Walker also reported that the department had determined there was no immediate threat to those on the RCC campus.

“My community service officer determined the scene was closed because the suspect had fled,” Walker said. “She climbed the fence, went to render aid and got a statement from the victim and made sure she broadcasted the information.”
Simmons said the lockdown involved locking doors on the first floor of the Centennial Plaza.

Centennial Plaza has a built-in security system that requires “appropriate access” in order to reach the second and third floors.

“That incident had, to our knowledge, no imminent danger to the district or college,” Simmons said. “We were not the target. The danger was really known to everyone who was in the building (Centennial Plaza), at that point there had been police activity and other activity … where activating Rave would have been redundant because everybody already knew about the incident.”

Simmons said that a notification had not been issued because there may have been negative effects on the RCC student population.

“In fact, our concern, if we had activated Rave and notified the entire student population of RCC about an incident that occurred in an isolated park a mile away from the college, we probably would have generated more mass panic than anything else,” Simmons said. “We have to be extremely sensitive to that.”

Some students hold a different view and thought that the information should have been shared with them.

“I would have liked to have seen an alert,” said Nigel Item, Associated Students of Riverside president. “I found out through social media.”

RCCD Student Trustee Ryan Rudolph shared a similar sentiment.

“With the shooting happening next to White Park, especially next to the new building, it should be very important that an alert was sent out that there was a situation,” Rudolph said. “So that the students (know) to stay clear of the area.”

Cory Chenno James, 26, of Riverside and Karisha Johnson, 25, of Colton were arrested after a traffic stop in the city of Colton, according to a press release issued by the Riverside Police Department on March 2.

Johnson and James were suspects in the Feb. 29 shooting that happened at 11:15 a.m. at White Park. They have been interviewed and booked into Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside for attempted murder.

Alexis Naucler, David Roman, Chris valdez and Hector M. Zermeno contributed to this article.