Police in Harford County rushed to Harford Community College Saturday afternoon to investigate a report of an active shooter but found no one with a firearm after a building-by-building search.
The Harford County Sheriff’s office reported on Twitter: “Media update: No confirmation of active shooter or shots fired at HCC. Please avoid area.”
After searching the campus east of Bel Air for some two hours, however, no one with a firearm was found; police could not say if the report was a hoax or false alarm.
About 4:15 p.m., Maj. Jack Simpson, commander of the Sheriff’s Office Administrative Operations Bureau, said the lockdown that was placed on the campus should be lifted in about 10 minutes.
Sheriff’s deputies were continuing to search the APG Federal Credit Union Arena and HCC public safety officers were searching the observatory, he said.
“As soon as we’re done with the buildings, we’ll open it back up,” Simpson said, noting that “the college will gradually move back into normal operations.”
Police were also talking with people on the baseball fields, where they believe the report of someone with a firearm originated.
“Before we release everybody from the field we want to know who heard something, and if they saw something we want to know want they saw,” Simpson said.
The campus was fully reopened by 4:30 p.m.
The Sheriff’s Office received a call around 2 p.m. about person armed with a gun who had possibly fired shots on the baseball field, Major William Davis, commander of the Sheriff’s Office’s Police Operations Bureau, said.
A deputy was at the field within five minutes and “we located nobody with a gun on scene,” Davis said.
Deputies talked with two witnesses who saw a person with a gun, one of whom said they saw the gun in the person’s hand and the other who just saw a dark object, Davis said.
“The suspect possibly had on a mask, as well,” Davis said.
Deputies were notified around 2:10 p.m. of an injury: a person who heard people yelling about a man with a gun began running, fell down and injured his wrist.
“Right now we have started to clear the college. Deputies are going through the college searching, making sure nobody else is in the college with a gun or any of those descriptions and we’ll be securing the campus pretty soon,” Davis said during a media briefing.
Multiple calls were received at Harford County 911, which Davis said he believes were a result of people yelling “there’s a man with a gun.”
“Somebody had told 911 that there were shots fired but nobody reported on scene that any shots were fired,” Davis said.
Multiple police agencies from across the county responded to HCC, including the Bel Air and Havre de Grace police departments, Maryland State Police and Maryland Natural Resources Police, he said.
“When we get a call like this, regardless of whether we have it confirmed yet or not you’re going to get a massive response from the county,” Davis said.
“We’re pretty fortunate this ended up being a practice for us at this point,” he continued. “We’re continuing our investigation to see if we can locate or determine whether or not there actually was a person here with a gun.”
“Deputies were continuing to go through each building, making sure nobody was inside, possibly with a gun, they we’ll allow college to go back to normal function,” Davis said.
Davis encouraged anyone who saw anything to call police.
“If anybody was here today and they saw an individual, please let us know, we want you to make those calls to the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Following the initial report of the person with a gun, the college was locked down, major highway entrances were blocked by police vehicles and people in buildings were advised to shelter in place, police said.
Speaking earlier from a staging area at the Oak Grove Baptist Church parking lot a short distance from the campus, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Cristie Kahler said there had been no confirmation of a shooter or of shots being fired but an intensive search was in progress.
“We are going to continue to run this into the ground, talking to witnesses,” Kahler said. “There has been no confirmation of a shooting or shots fired.”
As Kahler spoke, two ambulances, one from Bel Air and one from Bel Air volunteer fire companies, stood by in the Oak Grove Baptist Church wearing bulletproof vests.
Parents parking in the church parking lot, walking to Harford Technical High School and coming back with children who were at the school for Saturday activities The high school is across the street from the college campus.
Police used campus security cameras to search the athletic fields, according to monitored police radio broadcasts.
The also conducted a building-by-building search, according to monitored broadcasts. Police K-9 units joined in the search, and several officers carried shotguns.
At least 50 officers were on campus at the height of the search, police said.
People were sheltered in place in many of the buildings and were escorted outside by police.
Chander Swalm of Delaware was sitting on the bleachers at the HCC athletic complex watching a game before his when he saw what he said were 100 to 150 people sprinting toward his field from the one farthest east on campus.
He walked toward the eastern field to try and find out what was happening, but then he and his team were told to leave the complex.
They were waiting in the parking lot near the APG Federal Credit Union Arena not far from the outdoor complex, as police searched the campus.
Davis, of the Sheriff’s Office, noted police interviewed about 60 people regarding the incident.
Some of the people on campus Saturday were from other states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, for a baseball tournament, according to Cpl. Justin Blubaugh of the Sheriff’s Office who led the investigation.
“They were all pretty impressed with the response,” Blubaugh said. “They were very appreciative.”
Some nearby businesses also were locked down during the search, according to police broadcasts, including The Arena Club and Jacobs Well Assisted Living.
HCC President Dr. Dianna Phillips said the college gave the all clear message around 3:30 p.m.
Phillips said HCC has a tremendous partnership with the Sheriff’s Office and praised their rapid response.
“They were here quickly,” she said.
Whomever called it in “responded to see something, say something,” Phillips said.
Phillips, who has led HCC for about 11 months, said she has experienced a scenario like this before at a previous place of employment, “where we thought we had an active shooter on campus and had to lock in place.”
“As a leader this is a horrifying situation, but it’s gratifying to see the response of the professionals on campus and the Sheriff’s Office off-campus,” she said. “It’s horrifying that we have to respond this way but I couldn’t feel more confident in their professional response across the board.”
“I hope we never have to do this again, I hope we NEVER have to do this again,” the HCC president added.