Police blocked North Pearl Street, behind the McDonald’s parking lot where shots were fired. Credit: Jack Long | Special Projects Director

Shots fired early Sunday morning at the campus-area McDonald’s that prompted an active attacker Buckeye Alert shook the campus community less than one week after the start of classes.

One person was shot and is expected to recover after what police said was a targeted incident between non-students. With increasing awareness around gun violence across the United States, Robert Sagle, commander of the off-campus area with Columbus Police Department, said that the incident may have generated an undue amount of alarm, which Harry Warner, associate director for outreach at Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Services, said may lead students to seek additional support. 

“Putting out an active shooter alert kind of raises everybody’s fear level to a different notch,” Sagle said. “I’m not saying people shouldn’t be concerned when things like that are happening in the immediate off-campus area because it’s definitely a concern, but when it gets reported out like that, it just raises it to a different level where a lot of misinformation is going to be shared after that.”

Sagle said that the suspect in the Sunday incident would not typically be regarded as an active shooter, but as a “more typical” aggravated assault because there was a dispute that led to the shooting, and then the suspect fled. An active shooter, he said, is typically someone who is trying to “create as much chaos and injury as possible.” 

Because it is a public university, Ohio State has different guidelines than Columbus Police regarding what information it must disclose and how quickly, Sagle said. If the suspect was still shooting when it was first reported, Sagle said, he would technically be an active shooter.

“They err on the side of caution, which makes sense,” Sagle said. 

Students should pay attention to what’s happening around them after receiving an alert to make decisions about their safety, university spokesperson Dan Hedman said in an email.

“Information will be shared as it’s known, but remember in a fast-evolving situation, circumstances can change quickly,” Hedman said. “What you are seeing and hearing from your own location may also be critical to your safety.” 

 As shots rang out in the McDonald’s parking lot, students up the street at Buckeye Donuts instinctively dove to the floor and hid under the counter. While some ran from the scene, others stayed to watch it unfold — and even tried to cross police tape into the crime scene. 

“[Students should] try their hardest to either stay inside or away from the area so that they aren’t either disrupting the crime scene itself or just so they’re not in a place where something bad just happened,” Sagle said. 

The suspect has not yet been identified, according to Sagle. 

Warner said such an incident raises the community’s stress level and that everyone processes these events differently.  

There are different ways to cope with the stress and pressure that might arise from a situation such as Sunday’s incident, and before trying to seek help from external sources, there are things students can do for themselves, Warner said. 

“What I would say first is to make sure that students are taking care,” he said. “Make sure that you’re sleeping, make sure that you’re eating, then also make sure you’re talking to friends.”

CCS offers resources to help students cope, and phone consultations can be scheduled through go.osu.edu/phonescreening, Warner said. 

Speaking on the phone to a clinician is the preliminary step of understanding the problem and concerns a student might have and allow a clinician to offer recommendations, he said.

Warner said that while there are a lot of healthy ways to cope with a stressful situation like the one experienced at McDonald’s, like talking it out with family and friends and getting plenty of sleep, there are also some pitfalls that students might encounter while trying to cope. 

“There are things that we do that are less healthy at times like, using substances to excess … just withdrawing from people,” Warner said. “I think an important thing to look at is when you’re withdrawing from people. When you’re not spending time with family and friends, that’s something to really look out for and to make sure that you’re reaching back out.” 

In the future, Sagle said it’s important to always “be vigilant” and report suspicious activity directly to the police. 

“One thing that I stress, though, is you need to pick up a phone and call us,” he said. “Don’t think that by posting a picture on social media that we’re going to come across it because we’re not — not until days later.”

Sagle said that when conflict arises, it is better to report it to the police, even in situations that may not seem to warrant a phone call.

“A lot of people will see people start arguing and things like that, and they’ll just kind of stand there and watch, thinking they’re about to see a good fight,” he said. “Any fight can escalate into anything at that point. So people really need to keep that in mind. All it takes is a quick call and then that way at least gets officers on the way just in case it escalates.” 

Events such as a shooting tend to raise the stress levels of the Ohio State community as a whole, Warner said. There is a dichotomy between the kind of stress experienced when students go from the positive stress of move-in weekend to a different stress associated with an incident such as a shooting.

Despite the challenges university police and Columbus police face working as two independent agencies, Sagle said the two work well together and have a mutual aid agreement in which Ohio State can respond to crimes in areas of Columbus Police jurisdiction and vice versa. 

“We’re very quick to communicate with each other,” he said. “They can monitor our police radio traffic, and we also have a joint patrol officer where it’s one Columbus officer and one Ohio State officer work directly with each other in a cruiser or on bicycles every day.” 

Aside from working with Columbus Police, Warner said Buckeyes need to look out for each other.

“I think about the culture of care [at Ohio State] and how we need to take care of one another,” Warner said. “We need to take care on the faculty and staff level as well and push that forward because this is a complex world that we live in, and the more that we can do to take care and love one another the better.”