By Allura Morneau, Staff Reporter
Juan Agromonte, a University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) freshman, was one of the 93 students who participated in the annual game, Human vs. Zombies (HvZ). Agromonte woke up that morning in October, excited that his only class that day had been cancelled. He put on his costume in his dorm, grabbed his toy Nerf guns, and then went to the lobby of Scott Hall where he casually chatted with Officer Scott Jennings and a couple members of facilities. He had no idea that by the afternoon, he would be mistaken for a school shooter.
Two months ago, the Table Gaming Club’s (TGC) semesterly game of HvZ was cancelled the day of the last mission by Public Safety due to the Farmington Police Department (FPD) being called to UMF after an unknown faculty member mistook a student playing HvZ as a school shooter.
“Officer Scott was in Scott Hall and we were just talking in the lobby area. It was just him, me and the janitors. We were talking about HvZ, Nerf guns, and what not. I was wearing my outfit the whole time,” said Agromonte, explaining the day’s events that lead to the police arriving and the cancellation of the game.
His equipment consisted of a light-gray hoodie, a backpack, a mask that covered his mouth and nose, a vest with bright orange clips and blue foam darts attached to the outside. The Nerf gun that Juan had spray painted charcoal-black had the original tip, trigger, drum, and handle of Nerf’s original characteristic neon-orange.
“My gear got approved by Public Safety, so I didn’t think my gear would be a problem,” said Agromonte, gesturing to his gray hoodie. “It was my Halloween costume and HvZ costume. It’s a character named Ghost, and I tried to own it. That’s why I was so surprised this happened. It’s familiar from the video game. I had been getting positive feedback left and right. No one had a problem with my outfit.”
The morning of the incident Agromonte had spent most of his time off-campus. After leaving campus Agromonte had removed his mask, put down his hoodie, and put his gun in his backpack. He still received some strange looks from pedestrians for what he thought was his eccentric outfit. “I’m from New York [City], so I know that seeing someone with a hood up and a mask on makes them uneasy, so I didn’t have my mask on or my hood up or anything,” said Agromonte. “While I was down town, everyone and their mom were looking at me, but there was no fear in their eyes. They were just curious about what was happening. It was apparent the game hadn’t been advertised.”
Having failed to find the necessary tools to modify his friend’s guns, Agromonte put his costume back on and returned to campus; the accepted HvZ play zone. “I just stayed in front of Scott just looking for zombies to kill, and it was at that point that I saw the lady that called the cops,” said Agromonte. “I saw two women walking out of the Scott South side entrance that goes down to the parking lot. I had a feeling [the caller] was distinctly one of those ladies because she looked at me like she saw a ghost.” Agromonte’s eyes bulged out, mimicking the woman’s face.
At first, Agromonte didn’t think she suspected him to be a real threat. “I just kind of blew it off, because I thought she was just one of those people like the ones on the way to Reny’s that were surprised at my outfit, not that she was actually scared. In retrospect, I would have liked to walk up to her, take my mask off, and say, Hi, I’m just playing HvZ.’”
Agromonte then received a personal phone call from friend requesting that they meet off campus. He was picked up at about 11:40 and didn’t return to campus until about 12:10.
Upon his return to Scott Hall, Agromonte noticed a Pubic Safety car in the parking lot of Scott South. Officer Scott told him that he needed to take off his mask and that he couldn’t wear his costume, anymore. Someone had called the Farmington Police, mistaking Agromonte for an actual shooter on campus. “As [Officer Scott] told me that, there was a Sheriff van coming around the corner of Franklin Hall. Officer Scott waved off the two cops in the van. It made sense afterwards because they were all the looking for me, ‘the active shooter’.”
After removing his equipment, Agromonte wanted to leave to inform a friend what had just happened. “While I was walking in that direction, Officer Scott called out my name. He was on the on the radio with the Chief of pub safety. He told me that the Chief was going to terminate the game,” said Agromonte.
In that moment, Agromonte felt many emotions, both about being mistaken for a shooter, and for canceling HvZ. “I was afraid, I was enraged, and I was also afraid everybody that was playing HvZ was going to glare at me. I thought everyone playing was going to be judgemental and blame me for getting this awesome game canceled.”
Fortunately, Agromonte didn’t face any sort of punishment for the situation. “I didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t get arrested. I didn’t get any phone calls. I didn’t get any emails or anything,” said Agromonte. “Overall, I was just really distraught. I had been having a lot of fun. I had been dying to play this game for two years. That was before I even came here, and I was really good at it. I played with a lot of really good people.”
Neither TGC or the HvZ members blamed Agromonte for the game’s cancellation, in light of the fact that Agromonte’s equipment was approved by Public Safety. “Everyone was really supportive and the TGC told me they’d back me up,” said Agromonte. “One of my good friends, Nate Carey, told me, ‘You know, things happen. It was really silly that someone thought my obvious Nerf was a real gun.’”