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'Everyone starts bolting': UNC community reacts to second lockdown of semester

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Alpine Bagel Cafe closed on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 following an incident involving an armed individual at the cafe.

UNC sophomore Michael Mesa made his first trip to Alpine Bagel, located in the Student Union, on the afternoon of Sept. 13. 

Mesa was eating a breakfast sandwich as he and a friend discussed how they'd both "had a hard first year" and were hopeful for their sophomore experience. They sat at a table next to the front entrance of the Union. 

"Out of nowhere we hear arguing,” he said.

Mesa said he witnessed a disagreement between two individuals at Alpine. He said eventually, a man leaned over the counter and the argument escalated to loud yelling. Mesa said he then saw a man point a handgun at the Alpine employee. 

“Everyone starts bolting,” he said.

Mesa said he grabbed his bag, took his friend's arm and fled the Union — running toward Morrison Residence Hall, where he lives. He noted that the only reason he slowed down was to warn other students not to head toward campus.

It wasn’t until Mesa arrived at Morrison that he heard the campus sirens sound and received the first emergency Alert Carolina. 

"We're like, 'Did that just happen?'" Mesa said. 

The altercation

Mickel Deonte Harris is the suspect who allegedly brandished a gun toward an employee at the Alpine counter. The 27-year-old was arrested around 2:45 p.m. on Sept. 13. 

According to state attorney Jill Harden, Harris is the boyfriend of an Alpine employee who had been terminated that morning. The other individual engaged in the disagreement was identified in court documents as Alpine supervisor Jason Carpenter.

Harris was charged with assault by pointing a gun, communicating threats and possession of a gun on educational property in relation to the Sept. 13 incident. 

According to his arrest warrant, Harris pointed a 9mm handgun and threatened to kill Carpenter.

UNC Police chief Brian James said during a press conference on Wednesday that the University received a 911 call at 12:45 p.m. about an individual with a gun at Alpine. The emergency Alert Carolina message was issued at 12:54 p.m. after police independently confirmed the situation.

Following the Alert Carolina, UNC’s campus went into lockdown for about one hour and 15 minutes.

Harris was also charged with assault, communicating threats and going armed to the terror of the people for a previous altercation related to a “road rage incident” that occurred on Sept. 5 involving a bat and a handgun.

Harris made his first appearance in court on Sept. 14.

He is currently being held in the Orange County Jail with a bond of $50,000. 

Community response

A Carolina Union housekeeper said they were taking out the trash in the men’s bathroom on the second floor of the Union when they heard screams and students running on Sept. 13.

The housekeeper, who remained anonymous, said everything happened so suddenly that they left their phone in the bathroom during the commotion.

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They said their first instinct was to run, but for an hour and 20 minutes, they said they hid in a closet on the Union’s third floor with three students. 

Wednesday’s lockdown reminded many students and staff of what they experienced on Aug. 28

The housekeeper said they felt okay on Thursday morning, but after having to shelter in place for hours in the Union twice within 16 days, they are plagued by a sense of unsafety on campus.

Junior Mary McKenzie was studying with two friends at a table near the doors of the Union when she heard yelling coming from the Alpine register. When she saw a gun, McKenzie said she left her belongings and ran.

Before receiving the first Alert Carolina message warning of an armed individual on campus, McKenzie said she separated from her friends, reunited with them outside Kenan Labs and took shelter inside an office in the Rams Head Recreation Center.

She also said, compared to Aug. 28, when she hid in Davis Library with the same friends she was with on Sept. 13, the second experience felt more “real” for her.

“So many rumors were going around [on Aug. 28] and [I was] trying to figure out what was true,” she said. “[On Sept. 13], I was there. I was telling people what was happening.”

On Aug. 28, senior Emily VonCannon said she hid in the second-floor bathroom of Greenlaw Hall. On Sept. 13, she was in the line at Alpine. She said she grappled with the second incident in a different way from the first lockdown.

"[Sept. 13] definitely had a much more favorable outcome in that no one lost their life and no one was harmed, I think," she said. "But being the ones to run out of a building is weird."

A second time

Like other students, Mesa said he had a natural instinct to locate the nearest exits within the Union and flee the scene on Sept. 13.

He said many students across the country feel the need to prepare themselves for violent situations, but he thinks UNC students specifically feel more "tense" after the Aug. 28 shooting.

After he received the all-clear Alert Carolina message, Mesa said he was upset that he experienced another active gun situation in 16 days.

“I just felt so sad," he said. "Like no freaking way this is happening again."

Mesa said he feels “hyper-aware” on campus now. He added that he's not paying much attention in his classes, but is "really paying attention" to his campus surroundings.

He said he left class on Thursday early because he couldn’t concentrate. He said he was thinking about the vulnerability of the classroom's location: a large lecture hall with doors often left open in Genome Sciences Building.

"I was just looking up the whole time," Mesa said, "I wasn't able to concentrate. So I just left."

@abbypenderr | @ashnqm

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com


Ashley Quincin

Ashley Quincin is a 2023-24 assistant university desk editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a university staff writer. Ashley is a senior pursuing a degree in English and comparative literature, with a double minor in media and journalism and composition, rhetoric and digital literacy.