'The Saddest Day In UNC Charlotte's History': Chancellor Philip Dubois On Shooting

May 1, 2019

The day after one person opened fire in a UNC Charlotte classroom killing two and injuring four, the school's chancellor Philip Dubois joined host Mike Collins on Charlotte Talks to discuss the event and its aftermath. 

Chancellor Philip Dubois
Credit www.inside.uncc.edu

MIKE COLLINS, HOST: That - what you said yesterday pretty much says it all, but now that some time has passed, do you have anything to add?

PHILIP DUBOIS: No, not really. We’re beginning the difficult process of recovery and we have set up a family assistance center for students who either were victimized themselves or knew people who were. We deployed our counseling staff and opened some public venues on campus like the library and the student union so some community building can - can happen.

I’ll be in touch with families of the two students we lost, Riley and Ellis, probably shortly after you and I talk, and then hope to be able to visit the students who were injured and are still in the hospital. We had four students who were shot - three - three seriously enough to have surgery.

COLLINS: Yeah. Were all of the students involved in the shooting - either the wounded or the dead - were they all students?

DUBOIS: They were.

COLLINS: Okay. This is a nightmare for any campus. You train for it. Obviously your campus police were well-trained because they were able to respond very, very quickly. You put policies in place so that if something like this ever happens you have a way of acting and reacting, but still, you cannot anticipate what this does to you - what it does to your faculty, your staff, your students, and to the reputation of - of the university. What’s it like to go through this?

DUBOIS: Well, sadly I’ve been through a number of student deaths in my career in a lot of different circumstances. I was president of the University of Wyoming when the gay student, Matthew Shepard, was murdered. I lost eight students in a car crash out there. And even at UNC Charlotte, for a variety of reasons, you have student deaths now and again.

But this - this one, obviously this just unimaginable violence within a campus building is something that we - we can’t imagine. And you’re right, we train for it. In fact, it was just in October that we had a full, live drill surrounding - standing up a family assistance center in the case we had a mass casualty event on the campus, and you, of course, don’t think that you’ll ever have to use that training, but boy, it sure came into being this year and this - this day. Our police were magnificent. Charlotte-Mecklenburg - they - they went right toward the sound of the gunfire. They were backed up by Chief Baker who came in shortly after the initial officers. Then we had the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department here, and they all did a spectacular job. And - we have a system on campus whereby we can lock down most campus buildings within - with a single push of a button, and - and that worked as well. So you know, we’re just lucky we didn’t have a much bigger tragedy, if you can think of that as luck.

COLLINS: Chief Baker - your campus police chief - Jeff Baker told reporters late yesterday that the shooter never had time to get out of the room. And we have talked this morning with reporters who were talking to others who were obviously not in that classroom when that happened, but how do you explain your police department's ability to react so quickly? Because it resulted in more lives being saved. To react so quickly and to have him surrender peacefully. What has your police chief told you?

DUBOIS: Well, they had some kind of meeting at the time, and so they were all closely assembled and were able to get there quickly. I don’t know that I know all the specific details. Let’s just say these folks trained.

We have fifty sworn police officers on the campus, and - and ordinarily, of course, this is a very safe place. We’ve never obviously had that kind of situation, but we - you know, I commend them for their heroism. It was just - just amazing what they were able to do.

COLLINS: You confirmed earlier this morning on another radio station the name of - the names of the students who died in the shooting yesterday. Who were they?

DUBOIS: Riley Howell was from Windsail, North Carolina, and Ellis Reed Parlier was from -

COLLINS: Midland.

DUBOIS: Midland, North Carolina. Riley was just 21. And Ellis was just 19. And I think - the - Ellis’ last name is pronounced par-LEER. It’s spelled p-a-r-l-i-e-r.

COLLINS: The wounded were Drew Pescaro from Apex.

DUBOIS: Right.

COLLINS: 19 years-old. Sean DeHart, 20, of Apex. Rami, I think it’s - Alramadhan, of - 20 years old from Saudi Arabia. And Emily Houpt, 23 from Charlotte. What do you know about the extent of their injuries?

DUBOIS: I don’t think I’m permitted by -

COLLINS: Okay

DUBOIS: Federal privacy laws to give you any detail. I’m just told that at least at the time our dean of students was there, they were all doing okay and were expected have recover -  satisfactory recovery.

COLLINS: The governor, Roy Cooper, Senator Thom Tillis, Representative Richard Hudson, all expressed, as you would imagine, shock and horror and assured people that their thoughts were with the UNC community - UNC Charlotte community. Representative Hudson went to school there at UNC Charlotte.

DUBOIS: Yes, he did.

COLLINS: And added that - quote - "our prayers are with victims, their families, and the Forty-Niner community." That seems to be standard rhetoric following these events. Do these comments have any meaning anymore? Do they hold any comfort for you or anybody on your campus this morning?

DUBOIS: I think we value every expression of support from every person who can understand that when you lose two young people to this kind of violence that it's a horrible tragedy, and I’m not going to worry about interpreting those remarks for - for myself or any member of my community. I think we all appreciate having the community stand behind us. So this is a very blessed institution in so many ways. As you know, Mike, we’ve - we’re really one of the great success stories of higher education, and - and we will continue to be that. But for - for now, we have to focus on these families and - and their situations and the tragedy that they’ve gone through.

COLLINS: How do you see your campus recovering?

DUBOIS: Well I take, I guess, some solace in having watched other institutions recover from similar tragedies. You know, they - you don’t want to be defined by a violent moment on your campus. You want to be known for being a strong educational institution. And when you look at places like Virginia Tech, or northern Illinois, or other universites or even high schools that have gone through this kind of thing, they get - they - they manage to work their way past it, but they never forget, and that’s important as well.

COLLINS: That’s okay. Go ahead.

DUBOIS: Well, I think we're - you know, we're going to have to have some conversations about how we honor the memory of these students, and - and as you probably know, we’re facing graduation in a little over a week and commencement ceremonies, and that’s a time usually for celebration, and it will be for about 4,800 students who are going to go through graduation and get their degrees after long years of work. But we want to be judicious and - and sensitive to the fact that it’s not an ordinary commencement.

COLLINS: It’s too early, I’m sure, for you to really analyze what happened yesterday and what went right, what went - what went wrong, but what would you say to students, faculty, staff, parents of students at the university this morning - what would you - what would you say to them?

DUBOIS: Well, you know, in terms of what went right and what went wrong, we’re - we’ll wait for some time. We’ll do a full after-action review with independent, external reviewers to go through what we did and when we did it, and - and sort of critique how we did. I believe, based on what I know this morning, that lives were saved, even though lives were lost. And we - we will get together this afternoon at six o’clock with our students and, you know, Niners - Niners are tough.

COLLINS: Phil Dubois is the chancellor of University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Thank you joining us this morning on what I am sure is a very difficult day for you and everybody on this campus this morning.

DUBOIS: Thank you, Mike. Thank you.