Mercer University is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of a man who shot at four students and a recent graduate late Wednesday.
President Bill Underwood sent out a statement Thursday saying that security efforts would increase in response to the episode, which happened about 10 p.m. Wednesday in the Mercer Village area near campus. The students were walking near the intersection of Linden and Coleman avenues when a man sitting on a bench fired six shots toward them, the statement said.
The students and the graduate were not hit. The gunman ran toward the nearby Huguenin Heights neighborhood afterward.
The suspect is black, possibly a young adult or teenager, who is about 6 feet tall. He was wearing dark jeans, a white shirt, a black, puffy jacket and a black hat. He also has short hair with little to no facial hair.
Underwood described the shooting as "frightening and dangerous" and said he was thankful nobody was injured.
"Counseling services are available to students through the Dean of Student Life," he said. "Additionally, I am available for the remainder of this week to any student or group of students who wishes to meet with me about this incident. As additional information becomes available, I will share that information with the campus community."
Carl Fambro, the owner of Francar’s Buffalo Wings, said he saw some students walk by the restaurant about 10 p.m. and soon after he heard loud noises. Initially, he thought someone was banging on the Montpelier Avenue restaurant's wall.
"Most of what happens here is car break-ins, stuff like that. But nothing this major," he said Thursday afternoon.
The school first sent out a text message and email to students and faculty about shots being fired at 10:45 p.m., about 40 minutes after authorities were notified about the shooting.
The message included a description of the suspect who was last seen running away from the campus. There was a second alert at 12:14 a.m. Thursday.
Mercer senior Kyle Mullins heard the sound of the shots from his apartment in Mercer Village. When he looked out his window, he saw a group of men and women running and overheard what sounded like one of them saying a person had shot at them.
Mullins and other students began sending out text messages about the shooting right after it happened, warning people to be safe.
"The consensus I have (from students) is they heard about it from a friend before they heard it from" Mercer police, the 20-year-old said.
Because of the length of time it took to notify the campus community, there will be a review of the campus alert system, Underwood said.
More security near campus
Mercer's president said adding more security around Mercer Village at night is one of several steps being taken to "maintain a safe campus and surrounding environment."
He asked students and staff to report anyone suspicious they see around campus and to add the police department's phone number — 478-301-4357 — into their phone contacts.
Mercer police also can give escorts around campus at any time of the day.
Mullins said Wednesday was the first time he could remember when someone fired gunshots at students near campus.
"This kind of aggressive activity doesn’t really happen like this," he said. "I’ve heard of people getting robbed before sometimes at gunpoint ... but never have I really heard of someone being randomly shot at."