Mixed Messaging on Day of UT Attack

Students, APD parse rumors during Monday's mayhem

Mixed Messaging on Day of UT Attack

The tragedy that shook the University of Texas campus Monday spiraled into confusion for the Austin Police Depart­ment. Shortly after lunch, UT undergrad Kendrex White went on a stabbing spree that left one student – Harrison Brown, a freshman from Graham, Texas – dead and three others injured. Then, less than two hours after that attack, another UT student was allegedly stabbed – this time on West Campus in the 2600 block of Nueces. Despite social media's buzzing with rumors about a second incident (as well as unsubstantiated claims of an active shooter and bomb threat at various points around campus), APD did not publicly confirm that crime until after 9:30pm. Adding fuel to the fire was a third report indicating that a wholly separate body had been found a block up the road on Nueces (though that death was ruled not suspicious).

At 4:24pm Monday, APD tweeted that rumors regarding an attack near 24th/26th streets were not credible and there were "no ongoing threats." An hour later, however, the department sent another tweet: "Lots of rumors swirling around. Unless you hear from an official source, there are no further threats on or off @UTAustin." A final tweet was sent at 9:38pm, this one requesting the public's assistance locating a suspect in a West Cam­pus stabbing – which had taken place at approximately 3pm.

During a Tuesday joint press conference with interim Chief Brian Manley, UTPD Chief David Carter, Department of Pub­lic Safety Commander Jose Ortiz, and UT President Gregory Fenves, Manley confirmed that each incident was unrelated, and apologized for not releasing information on the second, nonfatal stabbing sooner. "We failed," he said. Anna Sabana, APD public information manager, told the Chronicle: "The focus at the time was the stabbing at the University and we failed to communicate about the West Campus incident in a timely manner. As with any critical incident we look at things that we need to improve on, and that was something we identified."

Manley explained APD wasn't aware of the second attack until 4:43pm, when they received a call from St. David's Hospital: A male undergrad had checked himself into the emergency room with a stab wound in his leg. The victim, whose name has yet to be released, allegedly saw a white male "acting aggressively" and wielding a knife at a woman. Manley reported: "Instinct kicked in" and the victim tackled the man. The suspect fled, but not before slicing the student's leg. Neither the woman nor anyone from a group of passersby had reached out to APD.

Making matters more confusing was the Wednesday revelation that the West Campus incident was not an attack, but rather an accidental, self-inflicted wound the 20-year-old student incurred at his home and attempted to connect to the University stabbing in an effort to avoid medical costs. Manley said during a Wednesday press conference that the student revealed this information while providing a statement to APD on Wednesday, and may face criminal charges for falsifying a report.

White was apprehended before 2pm, after UTPD got a 911 call about a student walking with a large knife near Gregory Gym. Officers arrived and White, who by then had entered a dorm building, obeyed orders and was peacefully detained.

APD and DPS are currently lending additional patrol to UTPD, with a focus on West Campus. Ortiz said they will continue "24 hours a day until told otherwise."

Manley said more than 35 witnesses were interviewed Mon­day night by APD detectives, and that the FBI, CIA, U.S. Marshals, and the District Attorney's Office helped APD classify White's attack as an isolated incident. Carter confirmed that White had recently been committed to a mental health facility in another city. The 21-year-old biology major was booked into Travis County Jail and charged with murder. Man­ley expects other charges will be added soon.

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