Unnerved Northwestern University students seek answers, improvements in communication after fatal shooting near campus

Students fleeing gunfire at a beach near the school say the university hasn’t conducted active-shooter drills and failed to quickly notify them of the threat or where to shelter.

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Evanston Police investigate the scene where three teens were shot, one of which fatally, in the 1800 block of Sheridan Road at Clark Street Beach near Northwestern University, Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Evanston Ill.

Evanston police investigate the scene where three teens were shot, one fatally, in the 1800 block of Sheridan Road at Clark Street Beach near Northwestern University on Wednesday. Students signed a petition Thursday calling for stronger security and communications measures from campus officials.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Northwestern University students launched a petition drive Thursday and voiced concerns about the school’s slow response in notifying students about a shooting near campus that left a man dead and two teens wounded.

Jacquis Irby, 18, of Skokie, was killed and two 15-year-old boys were wounded in the shooting at a beach in Evanston on Wednesday night, according to police.

About 8 p.m., two groups of people were in an argument near the entrance to Clark Street Beach in the 1800 block of Sheridan Road. The argument escalated and at least one person pulled out a gun and fired toward the other group, Evanston police said in a statement.

The suspects left the scene in a vehicle and drove in the direction of Northwestern University’s campus, police said.

The university issued a shelter-in-place order, which students say was communicated via email about 30 minutes after the shooting. The order was lifted about 10 p.m.

No one was reported in custody.

Evanston Police investigate the scene where three teens were shot, one of which fatally, in the 1800 block of Sheridan Road at Clark Street Beach near Northwestern University, Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Evanston Ill.

Northwestern University students were ordered to shelter in place Wednesday evening as police searched for the shooters. The order was later lifted.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Irby was pronounced dead at a hospital. A 15-year-old boy was listed in critical condition, and the other boy suffered a minor gunshot wound, police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.

Evanston police Cmdr. Ryan Glew said “nothing in the investigation indicates that this was a random act and that there is a continued threat to the public.”

The participants likely knew each other, police said.

On Thursday, school officials addressed the concerns of members of the community about the time it took for the university to share information on the incident and the shelter-in-place order.

The first message to the community on the shooting went out roughly 30 minutes after shots were fired, school officials said.

Nearly 1,000 students have signed a petition to the university’s president, police chief and administration asking why it took the school that long to alert students via text or email that a shooting had occurred “only yards away from where Northwestern students live, eat, study and hang out.”

According to the petition, students said that more than 90 minutes after the shooting they received an alert that read, “University police are responding to a report of a blank on the Evanston campus at blank. Please avoid the area and await further info.”

“We agree we should shorten that window,” university officials said of the time it took to send an alert. “We already have met with key members of the leadership team to discuss what happened last night and have instructed them to review our response, our procedures and the phone communication that was sent in error to ensure we do better when the next incident happens.”

Officials also said they asked for a review of facilities in response to concerns that some of their buildings were difficult to place into lockdown.

“We will continue to look for ways to improve on our response and will incorporate your feedback in this process,” officials said.

Northwestern said that although the incident occurred off-campus and the individuals involved were not affiliated with the university it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

Justine Fisher, a student who signed the petition, was with a group of friends along the lakefront when they heard what they thought were gunshots.

Within seconds they saw “so many people” running north, one of whom shouted out “gunshots!”

Fisher and a friend ran toward campus and found a classroom, where students were confused about the commotion. They then fled to a bathroom before running to a dorm room “because we wanted to find somewhere that had a lock on the doors.”

Fisher said that email or text alerts, which are helpful if timely, should not have been the only way to contact students.

“Honestly, when I was running from the first building I went into the second, I was a little surprised not to see any presence of Northwestern police who could tell us what to do. That would have been, I think, a better way to do it,” Fisher said.

Fisher, a sophomore, said she hasn’t done active shooter drills while attending Northwestern, and said she thinks the university could use expert advice on handling threats.

Evanston Police investigate the scene where three teens were shot, one of which fatally, in the 1800 block of Sheridan Road at Clark Street Beach near Northwestern University, Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Evanston Ill.

Evanston police search the area near Northwestern University after three teens were shot. The victims were taken to an area hospital for treatment, police said. An 18-year-old man was pronounced dead. No arrests have been made.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Contributing: Allison Novelo

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