Thousands of students were told to stay home and others were warned not to leave their dorm rooms on Monday as police hunted for the latest person to threaten a mass shooting at an area school, this time at the sprawling University of New Orleans campus.
Police quickly arrested a 20-year-old student from New Orleans, and classes resumed Monday evening. Yet the incident, which led to heightened patrols on campus, underscored the atmosphere of anxiety at educational institutions following the massacre at a Florida high school last month.
Since the shooting at the Parkland school, Louisiana law enforcement officials have investigated 106 school threats and made 62 arrests, according to the FBI.
The threat to UNO may have been the most disruptive so far, given its enrollment of 8,000 students and its status as an economic engine for the region.
Benjamin Franklin High School, which is located on the university’s campus, was also closed Monday.
“How can you focus as a student when you’re worried about getting shot?” asked Kordell Antoine, a 20-year-old who lives in the Privateer Place Apartments on campus. “The whole country is on edge. You can’t take it as a joke anymore.”
University students learned about the latest alarming incident on Sunday night in an email from the school administration. Officials said Nicholas Heard had threatened about 5:30 p.m. to shoot “several” students.
Heard, like about 2,000 other UNO students, lived on campus.
The New Orleans Police Department quickly obtained a warrant for Heard’s arrest on a count of terrorizing, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence. However, he remained at large until his arrest at his family's residence in the 8400 block of Willow Street, in Carrollton, on Monday morning.
In the meantime, students were told to remain in their dorm rooms, and police stepped up their presence on campus. Administrators also canceled all classes until 5 p.m.
UNO police said in a statement that it was “not worth jeopardizing the safety of the members of our university community.”
Kayla Mundy, a 22-year-old UNO senior from Dallas, said word about the threat quickly spread among students. She also got a message from her parents, who told her to stay inside. The news that Heard was the suspect surprised her.
“We’ve seen him around campus, and we just wouldn’t have figured that it would have been him,” she said.
Police said that officers and U.S. marshals arrested Heard without incident at the Willow Street residence. Further details about the allegations against him were not immediately available.
Parking lots and buildings at UNO remained mostly vacant on Monday afternoon, but a sense of normalcy was returning to the campus.
Mundy said she was not alarmed by the threat but was glad that authorities took quick action.
“It’s crazy how now, we really have to pay attention to these things,” she said.
University President John Nicklow thanked students and faculty for their patience in an email to the school community.
“Whenever the welfare of our campus community is threatened, it can be stressful and worrisome for everyone involved,” he said. “In spite of that, I am enormously proud of the way our city and university community banded together during this difficult time. Please know that the safety of our students, employees and visitors is always paramount.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies promised to take swift action against any other threats to area schools.
The FBI and Louisiana State Police said in a press release that they would show “zero tolerance” to school threats, which have multiplied at a rapid pace in recent weeks.
The 62 individuals arrested for threats to Louisiana schools over the past month have ranged in age from 11 to 28, with most being under 18, according to the FBI.
New Orleans police said Monday yet another area high school student had been arrested. A 14-year-old student at the ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Academy in New Orleans East, who is accused of making a school shooting threat on Friday, was arrested the next day.
The youth was being held at the Juvenile Justice Center on Monday on counts of terrorizing and disruption of the operation of a school.