By Allura Morneau, Staff Writer
Police arrived at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) after a Farmington citizen called 911 because they mistook a student playing the Human versus Zombies (HvZ) game for a possible school shooter. The popular annual game on campus began on October 27 and was scheduled to be played for four days. The incident occurred on October 30 the final day of game play.
Public Safety Officers arrived on the scene at about 12:30 p.m. shortly after the 911 call was made. After searching the area, they determined that the caller simply saw a costumed player with a toy Nerf gun. When the Farmington Police Department (FPD) arrived, Director of Public Safety Brock Caton and Officer Jennings, convinced them that there was no threat.
Officer Wayne Drake is a member of Public Safety who works with the officers who responded. “A passerby noticed a subject dressed in black, wearing a backpack and a mask, and carrying a nerf gun. The citizen mistook the student as a possible armed subject,” said Drake. “The citizen was alarmed and called 911. Area agencies responded to the campus. The situation was defused when Campus Police responded and recognized the subject as a student who was participating in the Human versus Zombies game. Given the totality of the situation it was decided to suspend the game temporarily until all the parties involved can review the structure and the rules for the game.” The student’s identity has not been disclosed. The situation was diffused quickly, “it was obvious it was a Nerf gun,” said Drake.
Public Safety immediately spoke to a HvZ player, Tyler Biso, who happened to be in the area after FPD left, asking him to inform all the other players that the game needed to stop. “It just happened that I was the first person to get into contact with them,” said Bisso. “[the officer] wanted me to get the word out and I felt the HvZ Facebook page was the best way to do it. I just wanted to get the word out, like I was told to do, so no one gets in trouble.”
Brittany Wheeler, Vice President of the Table Gaming Club (TGC) which organizes the event, was the first TGC leader to get in contact with Public Safety. “At first, I was incredibly confused, and then incredibly worried for the safety of the players and the mental state of campus. I made the executive decision to cancel HvZ,” said Wheeler. “I met up with Public Safety at about 1:10. This was after I had been called by Tyler Biso. And Public Safety was standing in front of the computer club, and I introduced myself as the vice president of the TGC. Basically asked them what the situation was. Officer Brock told me that a faculty member, who was only on campus about 2 hours a week, that had seen somebody on Scott hall, dressed menacingly and carrying what (they) thought was real gun.”
Wheeler and the rest of the TGC board member are working to keep HvZ running, “HvZ is in no danger of being canceled permanently. Both Kirsten Swan and Vice President Celeste [Branham] have incredibly helpful in insuring that the game can continue,” said Wheeler. “There are rumors that nerf guns will no longer be used in play, but the possibility of this is slim. We’re working to maintain HvZ as it has been played in previous years.”
The TGC board members are taking extra precautions to prevent this from happening again. “We’re planning on putting out a lot more publicity to both staff and faculty of the campus, along with informing Farmington PD. Dress codes will be implemented too,” said Wheeler. “We’re banning the use of masks and closely moderating the use of gun color and vest appearance. We’re going to make sure that no one can mistake the person as a danger.”
The administration is supportive of the continuation of the game, but agrees with the TGC in that the safety of players and the campus needs to be considered. “I understand that there were over 120 participants in the Humans v. Zombies missions on our campus last week, so it clearly has wide appeal. It is not our intention to eradicate this game, but there have to be safer parameters imposed,” said Vice President of Student and Community Services Celeste Branham. “I will be working with the coordinating group and Public Safety to come to terms about appropriate guidelines that will not involve compromising the safety of the participants and the campus, nor seriously disrupting emergency responders in the Farmington region.”
Wheeler was very pleased with how quickly the HvZ players organized themselves, spreading the word that the game had been canceled. “Players responded wonderfully,” she said. “They understood the situation, and took it in stride, making sure all other players knew what happened concerning the recent incidents.”
John Pich, secretary of the TGC, explained that because the game is a Halloween game, costumes were quite common. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of players dress up. Sometimes, we’ve even rewarded people for dressing up, encouraging players to get into character,” he said adding, “however, after recent events, we will no longer be letting players dress up in costume.”