In the three hours after the initial reports of a mass shooting last week on the Michigan State University campus, law enforcement was dispatched to investigate at least 90 calls about suspicious activities or people across more than 50 other locations as panicked callers flooded 911 lines, the New York Times reports. An analysis of radio traffic from the “Greater Lansing Area Public Safety” feed posted on Broadcastify, a website that provides public access to emergency radio communications, shows that at one point more than 240,000 people were tuned in to the emergency communications feed as more than 50,000 people remained locked down in terror, not knowing that the suspect in the deaths of three students and wounding of five others had already fled. As time ticked by and the civilian audience on Broadcastify grew, a feedback loop of terror and confusion took hold among students, staff members and even law enforcement.
The incident illustrates an almost impossible task for even the most coordinated and fine-tuned of law enforcement responses: tracking down one man with a gun on an eight-square-mile campus filled with 400 buildings, decentralized closed-circuit TV cameras, and tens of thousands of petrified students and staff members, seeing signs of danger in every shadow. Callers described a man wearing black jeans and a white shirt walking the halls of a dorm with an “AR” rifle, a white male in a black jacket carrying a paper bag, a Black male in a blue hat, a male in a red Stanford hoodie, possibly burgundy — or green. There were many 911 calls about suspicious vehicles: a Ram truck circling over and over, a black pickup not moving, a gray truck heading into oncoming traffic. One 911 caller claimed that someone in a silver S.U.V. had shot at them. Another reported a person riding a child’s bicycle, carrying a bag, possibly with a gun sticking out. “A lot of those calls sounded real when they went out. We thought they were real and we responded like they were real and we were ready to do what we’re trained to do,” Chris Rozman, the university’s interim deputy police chief, said at a news conference on Thursday.