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Thursday, July 19, 2007

They Even Provide a Timeline!

'It was rabbit season Wednesday at North Dakota State University.

Only no one told residents or the Fargo police.

For more than 12 years, with the approval of NDSU police, maintenance employees have shot rabbits to keep the creatures’ population down on campus.

And for the first time, someone noticed.

NDSU landscape employee Wayne Larson was just following orders in the early hours of Wednesday morning, when dozens of Fargo and university police swarmed the campus looking for a reported gunman.

Larson was reducing the campus’ “phenomenal” rabbit problem by shooting the creatures with an air pellet gun, said Ray Boyer, director of NDSU police and safety.

The bunnies destroy plants and crops on campus, he said.

But the scene caught the eye of a neighborhood resident, who called 911 at 6:42 a.m. after seeing a man, later identified as Larson, with the gun on 15th Avenue North and University Drive.

University officials canceled the longstanding practice of shooting rabbits after Wednesday morning’s incident, said Boyer, adding he was the one who originally OK’d the practice.

The 911 call Wednesday marked the first time someone made a complaint in connection with the university’s practice, he said.

“These small things don’t seem like they’re harmful until you see it through someone else’s eyes,” Boyer said.

Although discharging firearms – including pellet guns – within Fargo city limits is illegal, no charges will be recommended against Larson, Boyer said.

“This employee was in the course of his duties and he had my approval to do so,” Boyer said.

Larson and his supervisors at NDSU’s Department of Facilities Management could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

NDSU President Joseph A. Chapman – whose background expertise in biology focuses on rabbits and similar animals [Ah ha!] – was in Minot when the incident occurred and declined to comment until he returns to Fargo at the end of this week, NDSU University Relations Director David Wahlberg said.

Fargo police don’t plan to recommend charges because the incident took place on campus, giving university police control of the case, Fargo police Capt. Tod Dahle said.

“How NDSU chooses to handle the situation is NDSU’s business,” Dahle said. “I doubt we’re going to overrule their call.”

However, Dahle sounded surprised when told that campus police didn’t plan to pursue the case.

“The way the ordinance is written you can’t even carry it around town if it’s not in a case,” Dahle said. “You can’t discharge those (firearms) in town.”

After the Virginia Tech shootings three months ago, it comes as no surprise that a person with a gun on a college campus would send fears through the community, Wahlberg said.

NDSU released a notice about the incident to all students, faculty and staff at 8:29 a.m. – more than an hour and 45 minutes after police were dispatched. By then, police had discovered it was Larson who was wielding the pellet gun, while controlling the rabbit population.

“It was more of an informational than an alert,” Wahlberg said of the e-mail notice. “We didn’t get to that point where we had to lock down the campus. If it was more severe, we would have sent something out sooner.”

Timeline of events

- 6:42 a.m.: Red River Valley Regional Dispatch Center receives a 911 call from a woman reporting “a man pointing a rifle out of the window of his vehicle” on North Dakota State University’s campus.

Fargo and university police are dispatched to the scene.

- 7:44 a.m.: Police clear the area near 15th Avenue North and University Drive, having not located the suspect.

The police officers’ investigation led them to discover later that it was an NDSU employee shooting rabbits.

- 8:29: NDSU releases the following e-mail to all students, faculty and staff:

NDSU Police and Fargo Police have given the “all-clear” after investigating a report this morning of a man suspected of holding a weapon on the north side of campus.

Shortly after 7 a.m., a woman called Fargo Police to report that she believed she saw a man with a rifle in the vicinity of the Bison Sports Arena.

Police responded rapidly, blocking traffic and searching the area near University Drive and 15th Avenue North. According to Ray Boyer, director of the University Police and Safety Office, authorities investigated and determined the person was not a threat to the public.

“The woman who reported the incident did the right thing,” said Boyer. “It is important to treat situations like this very seriously and keep safety foremost in our minds.”'

--In-Forum News, Fargo--