Bloodbath narrowly avoided at Florida college

KYLE HIGHTOWER AND MIKE SCHNEIDER
Last updated 01:35 20/03/2013

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A University of Central Florida student who pulled a dorm fire alarm in the middle of the night had a more sinister plan than sending students scurrying out into the night, authorities said.

Campus police said yesterday that 30-year-old James Oliver Seevakumaran - who shot himself in the head as officers arrived, before any other students were hurt - was armed with two guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a backpack filled with explosives and a plan to attack other students as they fled the seven-story dorm where he lived.

His plans were thrown off by campus police officers' quick response to the fire alarm and a call to police from Seevakumaran's roommate, who hid in a bathroom after Seevakumaran pointed a gun at him, UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said.

"It could have been a very bad day here for everybody. All things considered, I think we were very blessed here at the University of Central Florida," Beary said. "One shooting is bad enough. Multiples would have been unthinkable. So, anybody armed with this type of weapon and ammunition could have hurt a lot of people here, particularly in a crowded area as people were evacuating."

Some 500 students were evacuated from the building just after midnight, unaware how narrowly they had escaped what could have been a bloodbath similar to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, when a gunman killed 32 before committing suicide.

"The kid's bringing huge explosives in his room. So yeah, it could have been a lot worse," 19-year-old UCF sophomore Anthony Giamanco said shortly after arriving on campus.

Roommates told detectives that while Seevakumaran showed some anti-social tendencies, he had never expressed any violent behaviour. The business major, who held a job at an on-campus sushi restaurant, had never been seen by university counsellors and had no disciplinary problems with other students, said university spokesman Grant Heston.

Police shed no light on a motive, but Heston said that the school had been in the process of removing Seevakumaran from the dormitory because he hadn't enrolled for the current semester. He had attended the university from 2010 through the autumn semester.

Detectives found notes and other writings that indicated Seevakumaran had carefully planned an attack and "laid out a timeline of where he was going to be and what he was going to do," Beary said.

Police were first alerted when Seevakumaran pulled a gun on one of his roommates who called police and holed up in a bathroom, Beary said. Around the same time, Seevakumaran pulled a fire alarm, apparently to get other students out in the open, the police chief said.

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Police officers responded to the dorm within three minutes of the first call.

"His timeline got off," Beary said. "We think the rapid response of law enforcement may have changed his ability to think quickly on his feet."

In his room, investigators found four makeshift explosive devices in a backpack, a .45-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber tactical rifle, and a couple hundred rounds of ammunition, police said. Beary said it appears his weapons and ammunition purchases began in February in Orlando.

Antonio Whitehead, 21, said he heard the fire alarm go off in the dorm and thought it was a routine event.

"All of a sudden, I felt the crowd move a little faster. And a police officer with a machine gun or something told everyone to start moving a lot faster," he said.

- AP

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