An employee at Southeastern Community college was injured Thursday after fighting off a robber at the college.
The attempted robbery resulted in a campus-wide lockdown from shortly after 9 a.m. until around 1 p.m., according to Michelle Tatum of the Sheriff’s Office. The suspect is still being sought.
The female employee told investigators that she was approached by a black male wearing a black hooded jacket in the print shop, which was previously used as the school bookstore. The suspect demanded money, Tatum said, but the worker had none. He then attacked her, and the worker fought back, Tatum said.
The suspect was described as having short dreadlocks and in his mid-20s. He fled on foot in an unknown direction, leading to the lockdown.
Students and staff were instructed to stay in their classrooms and work areas, and lock all doors and windows. The sheriff’s department, along with the N.C. Highway Patrol, Whiteville, Chadbourn, Fair Bluff and Tabor City Police, and the State Bureau of Investigation, began a room-by-room search for the suspect.
Officers in tactical gear, carrying shotguns and military-style rifles, scoured each building as well as checking parking lots and other outside areas. Other officers blocked the entrances to the campus. Students and others heading for the school were stopped from going on school grounds while the search was under way. Several dozen cars were parked along the Chadbourn Highway and in driveways while students waited for the all-clear.
Southeastern Community College was placed on lockdown shortly after the incident occurred, Sheriff Lewis Hatcher said. Deputies from the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office immediately set up a perimeter around the college, and all entrances and exits were searched and secured. All buildings and outbuildings on the property were searched by armed officers.
Each occupied classroom was searched to ensure that no students on campus matched the suspect’s description, Hatcher said. Additional security precautions were also taken at the Early College and day care center.
Vehicles were also searched before leaving the campus. Around 10:30 a.m. deputies took a male subject into custody, sparking social media rumors that the attempted bandit had been captured. The suspect was picked up on charges unrelated to the robbery, according to Hatcher.
“We did detain one suspect, but it was for narcotics,” said Hatcher. “We had no reason to suspect he was involved in the assault.”
Although the campus was reopened at 1 p.m., deputies remained on the scene, augmenting campus security.
When the robbery attempt and lockdown were announced, social media was flooded with various reports of the incident. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, SCC President Tony Clarke thanked law enforcement and addressed some of the rumors.
“I do want to emphasize that there was no shooting on campus,” Clarke wrote.
Hatcher also clarified earlier statements from various non-law enforcement sources about the nature of the attack.
“It was a robbery and assault, but it was not a sexual assault,” Hatcher said Thursday morning.
Clarke thanked all agencies involved in the lockdown, and said the school followed its standard emergency procedures. The school was shut down within minutes of the alarm being sounded.
“I want to thank all faculty, staff and students for their quick and professional actions to secure our campus,” Clarke said. “I also want to thank our campus police officers, security guards and local law enforcement for their professionalism in securing our campus.”
The sheriff’s office is continuing to search for the suspect, Hatcher said.
“This is an awful incident,” Clarke said.“We want everyone to be safe on our campus and will work to make our campus as safe as possible.”