A shooting that left three dead in College Station on Monday did not occur on the campus of Texas A&M University or involve members of the A&M community. Yet in headlines around the country, it is being referred to as the "Texas A&M shooting."
With new students scheduled to move into A&M's residence halls on Sunday, this has left the university with a bit of a public relations problem that officials are scrambling to rectify.
"It’s extremely important for us that our new students coming into campus and their families understand that this is a very safe campus," said A&M spokesman Jason Cook. "We truly care about the safety of our students and we have many, many safety measures in place."
In fact, the university's speedy response to the incident may have contributed to the confusion. Universities are required by the federal Clery Act of 1990 to issue timely information regarding potential safety threats to students and employees. So when shots rang out mere blocks away from campus, with details scarce, the university swiftly issued a campus-wide "Code Maroon" alert warning students faculty and staff of an "active shooter" and encouraging them to remain indoors and avoid the area of campus nearest to the incident.
It turned out that law enforcement officials had been serving an eviction notice at the residence of Thomas Alton Caffall, who allegedly responded with gunfire. The ensuing shootout left County Constable Brian Bachmann, Caffall and another man dead. Though the violence never reached the campus, as soon as the alert went out, media reports around the country linked the shooting with A&M.
Cook said his team had spent much of the last 24-hours contacting media outlets — particularly sensitive to such events, particularly in light of a recent movie theater shooting in Colorado — to address the framing of the incident.
"We've tried very hard to explain that it was near our campus, but it was not on our campus," he said, adding that the shooting still had an emotional impact, given the university's prominent role in the relatively small community.
In his official statement on the matter, issued Monday, A&M President R. Bowen Loftin attempted to provide a broader perspective for the "off-campus shooting incident."
"This is a sad day in the Bryan-College Station community," he said. "As most of you know, a traumatic incident occurred a few blocks from our campus today. ... All of us at Texas A&M will do whatever we can today and in the coming days to serve in any way possible to ease the pain, tensions and concerns of all affected."
Despite the public association with the shooting, the long-term effects on the Aggies' reputation may be negligible. Enrollment did not drop off at the University of Texas at Austin following a 2010 shooting on its campus. UT is about to welcome its largest freshman class of all time.