Monday afternoon two Rice County Sheriff’s Department officers were shot during a series of events starting as a traffic stop across from Sonic Drive-In at the northern edge of Sterling, less than half a mile from Sterling College.
According to reports from The Hutchinson News, Sheriff Bryant Evans, 53, and Undersheriff Chad Murphy, 48, were shot. These shootings took place at different locations related to the same incident. Murphy was reportedly shot four times, including once in the neck. Bryant was reportedly shot in the leg.
Both officers were transported to a Wichita hospital. Murphy is still undergoing treatment for his wounds, but Evans has been released from the hospital.
Local and state law enforcement agencies converged on the area to capture the gunman. Officers tracked the perpetrator to home near Raymond. By late Monday night, the suspect, 37-year-old former United States Marine David Madden, was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Madden’s father was also found dead at the scene.
The investigation into the situation is still ongoing.
These events shook the town of Sterling, and students at Sterling College were particularly concerned due to the events unfolding so close to campus.
Over the course of the situation, several students felt unsafe and bothered by the fact there was no one informing them on what to do in a fashionably time.
Within an hour after the shooting near Sonic, the school sent a message informing students that the campus was safe.
“Sterling College takes the safety all of students and campus personnel very seriously. Careful consideration is taken to send accurate information in times when an alert is appropriate,” Brad Evenson, Sterling College Director of Marketing and Communication, said in an email. “The decision was made to send a notification after receiving confirmation from local law enforcement that campus was safe at the time. Information is disseminated as quickly as possible.”
However, some students said the alerts should have been sent sooner, while others reported not receiving the message at all. Evenson said all students are automatically enrolled in the alert system, named E2campus, using the cellphone number they provide on their student profile form they fill out at registration.
“It’s upsetting to see the school did not handle the situation with seriousness,” sophomore Eryn Bearden said. “Everyone felt left out in the dark. We did not know whether we should seek to find a safe space inside or continue with our day. There was obviously something going on. We heard sirens for hours. I don’t understand why there was such a slow response from the campus.”
Sophomore Baylee Hyler agreed.
“I wish they could have warned us to stay inside sooner so we didn’t put ourselves in danger,” she said. “I was pretty scared because all I heard was there was an active shooter and no one knew where.”
Some students shared their frustrations on social media, such as junior Anna Darcy who tweeted about the slow response from the college.
“I don’t know. Basically, it just felt like a super long time that I didn’t know was happening,” she said. “I was trying to get information from my friends and people in town when I feel like I could’ve easily just, like, got a message from the school alerting me what was happening so I know how to be safe instead of waiting till it was supposedly all clear when it might not have been.”
Though students might not have been receiving information as quickly as they would have liked, Evenson said the process the college uses to make decisions regarding alerts was underway.
“Sterling College is very fortunate to be located in the community of Sterling, where, the Sterling Police Department is represented on the College’s Campus Safety Committee,” he said. “The Committee was notified by the Sterling Police Department that this incident occurred off-campus and that campus was safe. The final decision to send out the alert was made based on this communication the College received directly from law enforcement. Again, Sterling College, and the community of Sterling, is very fortunate to have a working relationship with the Sterling Police Department in collaboration on the Campus Safety Committee.”
Even so, students said they had real concerns for their safety as the events unfolded.
“I was sitting in my dorm room, and the fact that I could hear the gunshots, means it was close to campus,” junior Saige Biedenbender said. “There were students outside, events going on and the science class was outside as well. If the man would have turned south into Sterling, and if he really wanted to harm multiple people, Sterling College is a really big target. The school needed to send something out.”
This raises questions as to what is the protocol for sending an alert is, especially if there is a chance for danger on campus that would require students to seek shelter.
“A decision to ‘Secure in Place’ may be reached for situations that present an immediate danger to campus, such as the presence of a hostile or armed intruder on campus,” Evenson said. “The purpose of a ‘Secure in Place’ is to create a secure physical location where a threat may be physically prevented from entering spaces.”
If students have concerns about the alert system or campus safety in general, Evenson said feedback is welcome.
“Sterling College welcomes feedback from its constituents,” he said. “Concerns and complaints should be directed to the Office of Student Life and must be in writing using the official Sterling College Student Complaint Form, which is available in the Office of Student Life.”