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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton and St. Olaf students react to thwarted shooting threat

On April 4, St. Olaf student Waylon Kurts was arrested after items including ammunition magazines, knives and propane canisters were discovered in his dorm room. As KARE 11 reported, police also found other items of concern, such as a detailed plan to steal ammunition from Walmart, a hand-drawn map of Skoglund-Tostrud recreation center and other writings describing committing acts of violence. 

Kurts now faces felony charges including conspiracy to commit second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit threats of violence and making terrorist threats, as well as a potential misdemeanor for planning a theft. 

Authorities were originally notified when a custodian found two empty packages for high-capacity magazines in a garbage can outside dorm rooms. According to CBS, Kurts was initially suspended from St. Olaf and left the Northfield campus after an interview with school officials. According to Fox 9, Kurts was arrested after he was found inside his vehicle in Hennepin County. 

Gretchen Ellis, Vice President of St. Olaf’s Student Government Association (SGA), described that “the initial student reaction [to the news] was shock. I know we were all confused and concerned about the initial email we received about the arrest, and I think students were just trying to wrap their minds around the event.” Olivia Edstrom, a junior St. Olaf student, expressed a similar sentiment. “I think that the campus response [and the] initial feelings [of students] were just very confused.” Edstrom stated, “From my point of view, being on the cross-country/track team — and he was on the men’s team — It was just scary because a lot of people felt like they knew him, and it just didn’t make any sense.”

As Edstrom noted, this incident adds to an existing list of distressing events for St. Olaf students. “We’ve talked about [this incident] in, like, all of my classes, and one person was a senior and was kind of like … the senior class has not had a year at St. Olaf without some traumatic incident happening,” Edstrom notes. “Like, their freshman year, it was … COVID … and then last year there was the stabbing and then this year is the shooter.”

In response, St. Olaf students are also now taking action to advocate for improvements in campus safety measures. “A few weeks ago, the St. Olaf EMTs brought to the Student Senate a proposal that would fund five Stop the Bleed kits,” Ellis mentioned, referring to first-aid kits for blood loss. “Based on [this] proposal … as well as the conversations we have been having of late, St. Olaf student Senators Brock Lawhead ‘23 and Sophia Pletcher ‘24 brought a resolution to the Senate urging the funding of an additional 20 Stop the Bleed kits … [that was] passed with unanimous support.”

Edstrom also emphasized the need for heightened awareness and better preparations: “Stuff like [the Stop the Bleed kids] should already be in place. We should have plans to exit a building …. [but] St. Olaf is not accessible to disabled people … if [there’s a] shooting in the Caf[eteria], there’s one exit.” Edstrom described: “We can’t ignore the fact that this is happening all over the U.S., and we’re not protected because we’re like a private liberal arts college on a hill and there’s an honor code or whatever.”

“Student opinion regarding safety at the school is generally a positive one, but the relationships with safety systems are not as positive,” Ellis noted. “With St. Olaf being on a hill and in a small college town, the campus is deemed generally safe, but St. Olaf does not currently provide active shooter training for students, something that was brought to light again after recent incidents.”

On April 13, President Byerly’s Carleton Today newsletter included a statement from John Bermel, Director of Security and Management, which addressed the incident. Bermel described ways in which Carleton attempted to prevent and prepare for emergency situations. As Bermel wrote in the statement, “Last fall, our campus exercise included a fictional active shooter scenario and involved participation from the Northfield Police, Rice County Sheriff’s Office, St. Olaf Public Safety, Northfield Area Fire and Rescue, South Metro SWAT, other regional public safety partners, and decision-makers from all areas of the college.” In the statement, Bermel also emphasized the importance of immediately notifying security “if at any time you see something of concern on campus.”

When contacted for additional comments, Bermel also shared other pieces of advice for students: “Emergencies happen without warning. Each member of our community holds the responsibility for being prepared to act in an emergency. The best way to be prepared is to stay alert, make a mental exit plan when you enter a space [and] follow the Emergency Quick Guide,” Bermel stated: “[Additionally,] basic crime prevention is always in play. Lock your bike, keep valuables secured, lock your living space and be aware of your surroundings … The habits we develop taking care of basic things equip us to respond if a more significant incident were to occur.”

Some students also wished that Carleton had communicated earlier regarding the incident. “During class [last] Wednesday, my professor informed my class…It was surprising to learn that the incident had actually taken place on the previous Thursday, and that many of my classmates were also unaware of it.” Sadhana Mandala ’24 stated. “The absence of prompt communication from the school to the students is deeply concerning. Students should have been promptly informed about matters pertaining to such threats and their safety, especially since St. Olaf is located in close proximity to Carleton.”

For some students, the incident did not significantly alter their perceptions of safety on campus, though it was still unsettling. “Generally, I think of campus as a pretty safe environment,” Demetrius Blackmon-Jimenez ’24 stated. “I still think campus is fairly safe, although the incident leaves me a little disturbed.”

“It felt that Carleton was maybe not the place where a shooter would likely be created — the majority of shootings come from white men generally feeling ostracized and unwelcome to a degree where they commit hateful acts,” Henry Holcomb ’23 added. “People don’t always feel like they fit in … but I think it would be challenging to really fall through the cracks … I’ve never even heard of a gun being on campus. The freaky part about this shooting at Olaf, though, was the guy was pretty well-integrated within campus culture.”

On the other hand, not all students feel protected by the Carleton bubble. “I didn’t grow up here so maybe this is an unfair generalization, but I think of the U.S generally as a place that has guns everywhere, and Carleton/Northfield isn’t excluded from that,” an anonymous sophomore student remarked. 

“Although I had always felt secure on campus, recent events made me question how well Carleton is prepared for an active shooter situation.” Mandala added. “I decided to refer to the the Emergency Preparedness handbook, and I found that the advice provided was basic and vague… For the future, I hope the school can facilitate broader discussions about how to handle such a dangerous crisis in case they occur on campus.”

In the event of an emergency situation with an active threat, campus security would utilize the CarlAlert system and the Mobile Safety App. Students can access the Emergency Quick Guide at Security Services are available 24/7 at 507-222-4444. 

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