In a brief e-mail statement to students on Friday, William Watkins, vice president of Student Affairs, called on CSUN students to help support students who may be experiencing emotional or psychological difficulties.
“My experience is that students are often the first to observe concerning changes in the behavior of other students,” Watkins said. “We want you to know that University Counseling Services is available to support and consult with you (…) on how best to get help for a fellow student who is showing signs of emotional distress.”
Watkins’ statement to students also called for a greater degree of civility between one another.
“In a classroom or any learning environment, respectful conduct is essential to maintaining a rich environment where teaching, learning and the exchange of ideas flourish,” Watkins said.
He sent another e-mail statement to faculty, advising them to refer distressed students to University Counseling Services. It also provides online resources for maintaining a positive classroom environment and dealing with disruptive or threatening students.
Watkins’ statements come on the heels of the Jan. 8 Tucson shooting which left six dead and a congresswoman in critical condition, and the Jan. 12 arrest of David Everson, a CSUN deaf studies major charged with possession of explosive materials and having a gun on campus.
Everson pleaded not guilty to felony charges at his arraignment Jan. 14. In court, the District Attorney’s office indicated Everson threatened a psychiatrist, posed a serious risk, and asked the bail be raised from $150,000. Judge Lloyd Nash granted the request and raised the bail to $1 million.
Everson first came to the attention of the university when his parents expressed concern to university housing about his well-being.
“It first came to light a couple months back,” said Anne Glavin, CSUN chief of police. “The family calling was the first time the residence staff had any inkling something was wrong.”
A CSUN police officer accompanied a residence staff member on a “welfare check” to Everson’s dorm where they determined he was OK, Glavin said.
After Everson made threats against students and staff, a determination was made that he posed a danger to himself and others, and a mental health hold was placed on him, Glavin said. He was then placed in custody at a mental health facility.
While in custody, Everson admitted to having a firearm in his dorm room.
“He said he had a weapon, a shotgun,” Glavin said. “That was taken out of his room.”
CSUN police returned to his room the next day with a search warrant, Glavin added.
“His room was turned upside down. Bomb-making material was found,” Glavin said.
Identifying and assessing an unstable student requires a cooperative, systematic approach between multiple organizations on campus, Glavin said. In Everson’s case, it was between Residential Life, counseling services and the CSUN department of police services.
“When we’re analyzing a threat, we try to understand what is going on in their life in a given circumstance that is causing them to spiral downward,” Glavin said.
“Violence is a continuum,” she added. “People don’t just snap. When do you intervene? How far are they in the continuum when the case is referred to us (police)?”
Following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that left more than 30 dead, CSUN’s department of police services formalized its Threat Management Unit (TMU). The TMU evaluates all reported incidents of violence—or fear of violence—and manages legal and operational responses such as restraining orders.
Glavin said a potential tragedy was averted.
“From the moment that we felt he (Everson) was a danger to himself or others, we had him in custody,” Glavin said. “We protected the community as we should. The ending was as it should be.”