A suspect is in police custody after allegedly threatening gun violence Monday morning at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Police Capt. Randall Medeiros of the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division said 40-year-old Brandon Keala Kealoha was arrested without incident on campus. He’s being held on suspicion of second-degree terroristic threatening, a misdemeanor. while detectives investigate.
Medeiros said Kealoha is a student at UH-Hilo and was allegedly overheard saying he was going to “shoot people.”
“The threat was a generalized threat and not directed to any identified individual or individuals,” said Capt. Gregory Esteban, Hilo Patrol Division commander. He added “the alleged threat was of such a nature it elevated the response of officers and upon their arrival, the suspect was quickly identified and expediently taken into custody without further incident.”
Asked if Kealoha had a firearm, Medeiros said Kealoha was carrying a backpack.
“We’re in the process of getting a search warrant for it,” Medeiros said.
Court records indicate Kealoha was convicted in 2009 of first-degree terroristic threatening, a Class C felony. He’s also been convicted of misdemeanor assault, domestic abuse, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
At 10:38 a.m., UH-Hilo sent out an alert by text message and email stating: “UH-Hilo has received a report of someone threatening gun violence on campus. The Hawaii Police Department has been notified and is on-site. We advise that people on campus shelter in place.”
The nearby campuses of Waiakea High, Intermediate and Elementary schools went on lockdown at 10:45 a.m.
At 10:58 a.m., UH-Hilo sent out a message staging: “UH-Hilo and the Hawaii Police Department have identified the source of the possible threat. The situation is resolved. ALL CLEAR.”
The Waiakea Complex schools lifted their lockdown at 11 a.m.
Rumors of and questions about a potential active shooter on campus quickly found their way to social media.
“It wasn’t an active shooter,” said Kalei Rapoza, UH-Hilo’s interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs. “What campus security received was a report that a student or someone we think is a student made a potential threat of gun violence on the campus. And as a precautionary measure, we contacted (police).”
Rapoza said that after police arrived, “We sent out an alert to the campus to basically let them know what was going on.”
He said officials waited for police to arrive before sending out the alert “because we were still determining the credibility of the threat.”
Asked if the campus was on lockdown status, he replied, “What we wanted was for people to stay where they were.”
“Some of our buildings can be locked automatically; others can be locked manually,” Rapoza added.
Rapoza said the threat wasn’t made toward anyone in particular and noted, “We received the information third- or fourth-hand.”
Asked if there will be an internal probe of the incident in addition to the police investigation, Rapoza replied, “That would depend on if (the suspect) is a student of the University of Hawaii at Hilo or Hawaii Community College.”
Rapoza noted that UH-Hilo shares facilities with HCC.
HCC student Avori Lara said she was sitting in an English class on the UH-Hilo campus just after 10:30 a.m. when a classmate said there was an alert about a gun threat on campus.
“Immediately, we were like, ‘What is going on,’” she said.
Lara said students moved to the back of the classroom, locked and barricaded the door, turned off the lights and waited.
“I kind of didn’t know what to think,” she said. “Honestly, it was surreal. You see this kind of stuff on the mainland.”
Despite the situation, though, Lara said “no one was really freaking out” and instead were “just staying calm and trying not to freak out.”
Waiakea High School Principal Kelcy Koga said the school received word from both parents and police about possible gun violence at the college just before 10:45 a.m. Monday, “so we immediately went into lockdown.”
Principals at Waiakea Elementary and Intermediate schools were then contacted, he said.
“We’ll tend to do things together between the three schools just for safety sake,” Koga said.
Koga said the school was in lockdown between 15 to 20 minutes at most, which was “purely precaution.” There was no threat to the school, he said.
A joint letter from the three school principals was drafted and sent to parents and guardians of students at all the Waiakea Complex schools.
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