Two months after police took a man into custody for wielding knives through campus, police still have not been able to file charges for the incident that sparked campus-wide terror and confusion.
On March 24, Jesse Alan Kister, 31, was involuntarily committed to UNC Hospitals in Department of Public Safety custody after police said he ran armed through the student union.
It was a lack of information that left students feeling frenzied that day. Records provided to The Daily Tar Heel show police were told the man was carrying knives, but sent a more generic Alert Carolina message.
After the incident, Randy Young, a spokesman for DPS, said Kister would be charged with assault with a deadly weapon upon his release from the hospital. But after six weeks, no charges have been filed, and police won’t say where Kister is residing.
“The institutions themselves cannot disclose to me whether this person is a patient or their current status,” Young said. “As soon as this person is remanded out of custody — out of medical supervision or medical treatment — the charges will be filed.”
The Orange County Courthouse cannot release the nature of the warrants police have filed against Kister until he’s officially been served, said Jennifer Powell, the assistant clerk of the courthouse’s criminal division.
Last month, The Daily Tar Heel received DPS radio traffic from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 23 — the day the armed man ran through campus. Most of the radio traffic was redacted because the department won’t release information that might hinder its investigation.
The campus sirens started sounding around 4 p.m. Police did not give the all-clear until almost an hour later — after Kister had made the half-mile walk to Franklin Street and was captured by Chapel Hill police.
One DPS officer said he was making his way to the scene with his police car sirens sounding audibly, alerting students — and the armed man he was searching for — to his location.
Young said the officer probably used sirens to get to the quad quickly.
“If this was a protracted situation, for example, if a person was in a situation and there was hostages involved, and you heard radio traffic, you would be much less likely to hear sirens,” Young said.
And in the initial dispatch, operators told DPS officers they were looking for an armed man carrying two visible knives near the Pit with long hair and a baseball cap wearing a hunter green rain coat.
But in their first Alert Carolina message, police only reported an armed and dangerous man on or near campus and told students they had activated the campus-wide siren system so students would know to seek shelter.
“There’s some things we just can’t do in an Alert Carolina message,” Young said. “And we sacrifice description for the sake of getting the message out immediately.”
DPS relies on templates it can deploy quickly in times of crisis. While the templates allow police to alert students quickly, they are vague.
Desperate for information, students took to social media so they could know the kind of threat their campus was facing.
While he appreciated the efforts police made to capture the armed man, C.J. Brodowicz, the president of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, said he felt police should have given students a description of him and been more specific about the weapons he carried.
“It kind of made it worse because the way people are, they want to figure it out,” said Brodowicz, who’s fraternity house sits across the street from the church where police eventually captured Kister. “So instead of staying inside, people tried to go out.”
But Young said the department can’t always safely meet the demand for information.
“They want as much information as possible, immediately, but that’s not always the priority,” he said. “But it is a goal for us.”
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