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EMU's Police Chief springs into action after MSU shooting to secure both the Ypsilanti campus and his daughter at Michigan State

EMU Police Chief Matthew Lige
Eastern Michigan University
EMU Police Chief Matthew Lige


Cathy Shafran:This is 89 one WEMU FM. I'm Cathy Shafran. The mass shooting on Michigan State University's campus last night that left three students dead and five critically injured triggered immediate concerns on university campuses across the state. Among those who was immediately on alert last night was Matthew Lige, executive director of public safety and chief of police at Eastern Michigan University. Thanks for being with us right now, Chief. I understand that you guys went into immediate operational readiness mode. What does that mean?

Matthew Lige: So we did. So, at about 9:30, my staff was notified that there was not just a report of shots fired, but a confirmed active shooter on a neighboring campus. So, I happened to be here with staff. We were involved in a community engagement meeting. And once that confirmation happens, for me, it goes into an assessment of our operational readiness. So, at 9:30, 10:00 at night, it's an assessment of what buildings on campus do we have students. And then once that question is answered, what resources do I have onsite at that moment in time to effectively manage or be aware of the fact that an active shooter situation happened on a sister campus? And so, last night, that's the immediate mode we went into, and we redeployed resources that we're working to put them in the field, to put them on campus, to put them in our residence halls, to engage them with our students as early as we possibly could, because we wanted the students to have a sense of safety that we were here. And in the early phases of this shooting situation, we wanted to be able to answer questions and give those reassurances.

Cathy Shafran: So, the first thing that people in charge of safety and security on a university campus think about is it could be coming this way. We want our students to be safe. Is that the trigger in your mind?

Matthew Lige: It is. So, as the chief of police here, it is if we were to have a collateral incident similar to what happened at again, a sister university not that far away at that exact moment in time, Cathy, what resources do we have on campus? What resources are available in the county? And how can we effectively respond to that? So, last night, once we got confirmation, we normally would have had a shift of a supervisor and three officers. We had four additional officers stay. And I staged them throughout the night because what happens is at 10:00, our student center closes. All our non-academic buildings close at ten. So, everything shifts to the dorms. And so, the students we have are, for the most part, they're in a more of an isolated area of campus. So, we saturated that campus, and we saturated the dorms. And then, as the night went on and things slowed down, I was able to send people home because my worry is, not necessarily in a worry, but in a readiness is I want our students and staff to see us. I want them to know that they can come to us. They can feel safe by our presence. We're trained and prepared for this.

Cathy Shafran: Did you bring everybody on?

Matthew Lige: No, I did not.

Cathy Shafran: No, you did not. OK.

Matthew Lige: You know, but today, for example, I think I've got I've got 11 staff. So, my non-uniformed staff, like my detectives and my support staff, they're all in uniform today, and they're all throughout campus. And that's what we're doing. We're walking, talking, and engaging and making--hopefully making--students feel like we're here, and we're a part of this. So, normally, I would have four or five officers working. Today, I'm almost double that. And we're going to keep that in place until we don't feel that we need to. And I'm not sure when that's going to be.

Cathy Shafran: So, the immediate response from you was first to make sure that there was police presence across EMU's campus, to make sure that there was a feeling of safety and security here. Did you also respond to what was going on at MSU?

Matthew Lige: Yes. Right around 11:30, when the situation was still fluid, and it was active and ongoing and the students were told to lock in place and remain in place, shelter in place, we offered up EMU services to the officials at Michigan State. So, I did send one police officer to a command post in East Lansing, where that officer collaborated with FBI officials and Michigan State officials at what was designated as a reunification location, where parents were coming to get their children. And we have a process in place to safely get the student from whatever building they're into a neutral location, so they can be reunited with family. So, the EMU presence last night from 11:30 to four or five in the morning was to collaborate with law enforcement and federal officials to help facilitate reunifying, you know, parents and students with, you know, their loved ones. And we did that for several hours.

Cathy Shafran: You were one of those parents who was concerned about a loved one, I understand?

Matthew Lige: My daughter is a sophomore at Michigan State. And so, our meeting is ending about 9:30. We were getting reports that there is a confirmed active shooter on campus. Once the operational readiness assessment happens here, the next phone call is to my daughter. And I will tell you, Cathy, I think I've aged, because you don't realize from the first ring to the second ring how much time between rings to the third ring where you can feel your anxiety. Now it's fourth ring, and it's my girl, it's my daughter. And you feel your heart beating out of your chest, and your throat starts to tighten to hear her pick up the phone and say, "I'm fine." So, all the professional preparedness and the compassion that goes into these parallel lines crossed last night in a way that I did not anticipate. And it's given me resolve that, as long as I'm the chief of police here, making sure we have our programs in place and we have our resources and we have our training and that we're creating a safe environment for our students to thrive here is ever more important now than it maybe ever has been. And that responsibility is something that I take very seriously here at EMU.

Cathy Shafran: Can you share with us what her situation was?

Matthew Lige: She was in her dorm. Her day was ended. She got the first emergency message from campus saying that there was an active shooter. It was an active shooter that identified the area where it was happening and that students were recommended to run, hide, and flight and ultimately shelter in place. So, she knew that and she tells me last night that because the university sent an email out, she took it seriously. So, her and her roommate did what they were told to do through email, did what Dad has talked to her to do since high school, and they stayed in their dorm room. They pushed a couch behind the door. They turned the lights off. And they just kind of monitored. And so, what happened between messages is, like it or not, social media can be your ally, and it can also be your adversary. So, aside from the message that went out to the university students from MSU PD, social media was kicking in. And there were reports that there were multiple shooters, and there were reports that there were multiple fatalities. And this thing was going in a frenzy direction because people were scared. And she was too. So, during the course of assessing our readiness here, making sure we're prepared, it's periodically checking with her for updates and being able to share information. So, by the time 11:30 rolled around, that little girl stressed. And you can hear it in her voice because she's trying to be tough, but she's scared. And your heart is just pulling out of your chest because you want to go and be there. And MSU is saying to parents, don't come. This is active. It's ongoing. And we just don't know what we have yet. As a parent, that's a tough thing to do.

Cathy Shafran: Was your advice to her different as a parent than it would have been as a police chief? Or did police chief mode kick in?

Matthew Lige: Police chief mode kicked in. And it was to her listen to what MSU officials are telling you to do. That is going to be the most accurate information. Anything you get through social media, you know, the student social media network, may not be accurate. It may not be reliable because that is a physiological response to significant stress and trauma is to create circumstances that don't exist. And that was happening last night where I understand there were reports across MSU's campus of active shooters in other buildings, and there were four or five shooters. And that was not the case. So, for me, it was police chief mode with dad mode to say follow your instincts, do what the university is recommending that you do, you know, and be aware of your surroundings, and call me if you need me. So, it was a parallel line that crashed when it's your daughter. So, she was stoic. She listened. But it was still very difficult for her. So, last night, I end up leaving campus right around 3:00. I drove to East Lansing because the all clear had been given for parents to come. So, I picked up that little girl, and she is home, and I'm going to do a lot of listening. And I'm going to more listening. And I'm going to let her, you know, absorb and take this in, because this is a life-changing event for all those students and staff and everyone who is directly affected or indirectly. It hit home last night for a lot of us. And when it's your daughter, it takes on a greater meaning. And it continues my resolve that the students, staff, and faculty here, they deserve the best we can give him when it comes to making sure we're prepared for an event I hope never happens.

Cathy Shafran: You feel confident that Eastern Michigan has all the security measures in place should a similar situation happen here.

Matthew Lige: EMU PD has the training, the talent, the equipment, the infrastructure. We work on this regularly. We have a procedure in place to initiate countywide mutual aid. So, that's where Ypsilanti police is going to respond. Pittsfield Township Police, Washtenaw County Sheriff, the Michigan State Police, Ann Arbor. I feel very comfortable that, as an institution, we're as ready as we can be. And I feel by extension, as a county, the county is well prepared for this, and I hope that we never have to actually do it. But, last night, it came. It hit home last night. And it's been an interesting 24 hours. And my heart and my sympathy and everything about my soul goes out to those students and their family and everyone in East Lansing who is going to be affected by this for a very long time. These are happening with too much regularity. And it's frustrating and disturbing. And whatever that solution might be, I'm open to it.

Cathy Shafran: Matt Lige, executive director of public safety and chief of police at Eastern Michigan University. Thank you so much for sharing those observations with us. This is 89 one WEMU FM. I'm Cathy Shafran.

Officials with the Ann Arbor Police Department are reaching out to those in Washtenaw County who are feeling the impact of last night’s tragedy at Michigan State. They say for those wanting to show support to MSU, a vigil is planned tomorrow night (Feb. 15th) at 7pm on the UM Diag. They are also offering links to counseling resources available through the University of Michigan.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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