Student Pulls Gun Out in Class, Forcing Evacuation and Shelter in Place at Community College of Philadelphia

A student pulled a gun on a classmate at the Community College of Philadelphia Wednesday, causing a panic that shut down the school and forced students who didn't flee to shelter in place while SWAT officers searched the building and campus.

According to other students who were in the chemistry class, the 23-year-old student stormed into the room, accused another student of ratting on him to security and then pulled out the gun.

No shots were fired and no one was injured. But the order to evacuate the building was unsettling for some students and staffers, especially in those first moments when there wasn’t much information.

"When a cop comes in your office and tells you to ‘get out now!’ you take that seriously,” said Diane Kae, assistant director of admissions for outreach and recruitment. Her office is in the same building.

The student, who law enforcement sources identified as Ryan Fitch, took off, but until police talked to his father, they weren’t sure if he was still on campus or not.

In the two hours or so that elapsed before Fitch was picked up by police, SWAT officers evacuated the West Building. Everyone else on campus was told to shelter in place. Around 12:30 p.m., police posted on Twitter that the search was being conducted as a precaution.

Elisha Buckingham was in English class inside the Mint Building, which is across the street, but connected to the West Building by a skybridge. Her first sense of trouble came from off campus. A  fellow student got a call from a family member alerting her that the school was on lockdown. Unsure of what to do, the teacher went into the hallway and was met by a police officer who ordered him to lock and barricade the classroom door.

"We used the only cabinet in there to block the door and then one of the desks that were in there."

Buckingham said it was at that point -- 12:24 p.m. -- that she got the school's text alert, which she felt should have come sooner.

"I heard the sirens outside. It was just so crazy. Next thing I know, people were calling my phone."

A spokesperson for CCP told NBC10 that the college reacted in line with protocol but that an emergency response team will review the incident.

Samantha Sekula's phone was also ringing and she was grateful. The 20-year-old summer school student had just wrapped up a tutoring session inside the West Building when the evacuation was ordered. "I got calls from my grandmom...that made me feel better."  Sekula was left shaken and nervous about returning to class. "You don't want to be killed."

Police picked up Fitch at his apartment building in Northeast Philadelphia around 1:30 p.m. He is charged with bringing a weapon on school property, terroristic threats, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

He is expected to be arraigned Thursday morning.

Police say Fitch threatened the other student due to an argument involving his girlfriend, though they did not go into further detail. Police also say that Fitch had a license to carry. 

The potential threat affected nearby schools and traffic in the neighborhood. Masterman middle and high schools, which are directly across the street, were placed on lockdown as well as schools in the surrounding area, including: Ben Franklin High School, Franklin Learning Center High School.

SEPTA bus routes 2 and 43 were detoured.

Kae completed a course in January on how to handle an active shooter. As she waited for the all clear to go back inside her office to get her purse and keys and go home, she couldn’t help but think of the weekend murders near a college campus in California.

“With the Santa Barbara thing so fresh, you used to think a college campus was a safe place to work,” she said. “It’s a different ball game these days.”

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