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University of Idaho president focuses on safety after shooting spree

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho President Chuck Staben understands the concerns parents have surrounding safety when they send their children to college.

“I’m a parent so I know it’s rather traumatic to send their dear, sweet child off to a place they don’t know,” Staben said.

And Staben knows that safety concerns likely will be highlighted even more following the Jan. 10 shooting spree in Moscow that left three dead and a fourth injured.

The suspected shooter, 29-year-old John Lee of Moscow, is accused of killing his mother, Terri Grzebielski, 61, at her home, as well as his landlord, David Trail, 76, at his office in an apartment building where he lived and Arby’s manager Belinda Niebuhr, 47, at the restaurant. Michael Chin, 39, of Seattle, also was injured by gunfire and is recovering.

Lee was captured in neighboring Whitman County, where he is being held as he awaits extradition and trial in Latah County on murder and attempted murder charges.

The series of shootings is the most recent incident in a list of other high-profile violent crimes that have plagued Moscow for more than a decade.

And while none of the incidents occurred on UI’s campus, “I do just frankly anticipate that parents will ask more questions,” Staben said.

It’s an area he feels staff is well-prepared to discuss with parents and prospective students alike.

Information about the safety and security of campus is something UI employees routinely discuss when meeting with parents and students at events like Envision Idaho and Vandal Fridays, which give high school and prospective transfer students the chance to visit the campus. UI representatives also talk with parents at Meet the Vandals events held throughout the state.

The president doesn’t anticipate fundamentally changing UI’s approach to addressing safety and security at these events, but it will emphasize the violent crimes that have garnered national attention are oddities for the Moscow community. Staben said he and Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert have discussed the Jan. 10 shootings and are confident in the city’s overall safety.

“We just aren’t a violent community,” Staben said.

The safety of current and future students is a priority for UI, Staben said. The university contracts with the Moscow Police Department for campus protection, and residence halls are all equipped with key-swipe systems to limit access to authorized staff and students.

“We’re pretty restrictive about who has access to our facilities, especially our residential facilities,” he said.

UI also is revising its policy for issuing Vandal Alerts. Staben said he and his staff learned in the latest incident that the UI community wants them to be quicker and to provide information about emergency situations, even if they don’t pose a direct threat to campus.

Previously, the Vandal Alert system policy required there to be an immediate danger to campus for an alert to be issued. But UI has modified that policy to include action alerts and bulletin information, Staben said. The action alerts will notify students that an emergency is happening on campus in real time and provide direction on what to do. Bulletin information will inform students of situations occurring in the community, even if there is no immediate campus threat.

Staben said if it is clear that UI is making its best effort to improve and implement changes by hearing what the community wants, then it can only make the campus better overall. He thinks that will ease the concerns of current students, as well as future ones and their families.

“A safe and wholesome college experience is what we’ve offered, but I think we need to communicate that effectively as we grow our enrollment.”


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