A shooting in the heart of the University of Central Arkansas' campus killed two students and wounded a third person, authorities said today.
UCA police spokeswoman Lieutenant Rhonda Swindle said the first report of shots fired came at 9.19pm. An officer heard the shooting, which occurred near a male dormitory and behind the campus police station, and arrived on the scene in less than a minute, she said.
Witnesses described hearing as many as five gunshots ring out. One man died at the scene and another at a local hospital. A wounded man who wasn't a student was treated and released, Swindle said.
Swindle had no immediate explanation for the shooting, though she said police questioned one "person of interest" into the early hours. She said detectives believed four people were involved in the attack, though no arrest or search warrants had been issued in the case.
"We have really good leads we're following up on right now and we feel the campus is safe," Swindle said.
Swindle declined to identify the victims of the shooting, saying officers were continuing to try and reach their families. The lieutenant said their bodies would be sent to the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock for autopsies.
Interim UCA President Tom Courtway cancelled classes today at the university, which serves 12,500 students. He stressed that every precaution was being taken to ensure the safety of the students who remained in their dormitory rooms.
"It doesn't matter where this happens in the country — it's awful," Courtway said.
Police used crime scene tape to keep people out of a large area around where the shootings occurred, including a nearby intersection.
Student Aprille Hanson, 20, said the shooting was "definitely an eye-opener" in the quiet city of Conway, about 26 miles north of Little Rock.
"This campus is very safe. I've never felt afraid on this campus," Hanson said. "Everyone's going to be a little more tense."
The campus remained under guard this morning, with police cruisers circling its quiet streets and officers roaming the grounds in flak jackets and blue jeans.
"The UCA campus itself is not locked down, although officers are posted at every campus entrance, and access to campus is limited to residents and authorised personnel," UCA spokesman Warwick Sabin said in an e-mail today.
Faculty and students received phone calls and e-mails through an automated system at 9.38pm warning them of the shooting and encouraging them to stay inside behind locked doors. Sabin said it was the first incident to prompt use of the university's new emergency e-mail and phone call system, purchased last year after the Virginia Tech massacre.
Swindle said video captured by surveillance cameras also installed at the campus after the massacre would be examined.
Yesterday's shooting is the second at an Arkansas college this year. On 27 February, a man was shot and wounded at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Two suspects were eventually charged. The victim, James Earl Matthews, was hospitalised and had surgery before being released.