About six hours after University of Memphis football player Taylor Bradford was shot outside the Carpenter Complex on Poplar Ave. September 30th, approximately 4,500 students received a mysterious text message.
It didn't say there had been a murder, just that classes would be canceled the following day and advised students to watch the news. It also listed a hotline number that students could call for more information.
"I woke up with my phone beeping at 4 a.m.," says U of M student Chris Hayden. "They sent out another one later in the morning. I think it was effective because I would have had no other way of knowing classes were cancelled."
But some students think the update from tigerText, the school's subscription text-messaging alert system, was sent too late. The student government passed a resolution earlier this month condemning the university for failing to send information immediately after the shooting.
Students also have complained that due to spam filters used by certain cell phone service providers, some tigerText subscribers didn't get the message at all.
"I understand their frustration," says Derek Myers, University Police deputy director. "I think in the future, we'll send out a breaking-news alert over the tigerText system just saying something like, 'we're investigating a shooting at Zach Curlin and Central.'"
Myers says the school has created an advisory committee for student input on how future situations should be handled. He says they're also working on how to overcome spam filters.
"We're working with the vendor, and they're talking to various cell phone companies to make sure there's no more problems with spam filters," Myers says. "I got my message in five seconds, but others did not get the message at all."
The day after the homicide, university officials passed out flyers urging students to sign up for tigerText at tigerText.memphis.edu. Since October 1st, more than 2,000 additional students have signed up for the service, bringing the total number of subscribers to almost 7,000.
Originally tigerText was intended for alerting students of class cancellations due to inclement weather, but the Bradford murder was the first situation in which the system was used.
"It seems that young people all have cell phones with them 24 hours a day, and they're texting like crazy," says Curt Guenther, U of M's director of communications. "Colleges are realizing they need to change with the times. E-mail is almost passé."
Besides evaluating the school's alert system, Myers says the university is adding more security cameras and emergency phones following last month's homicide.
"We're actually down about 18 percent in our overall crime numbers, but the perception is that crime is up," Myers says.
U of M student Matt Tubinis says he feels pretty safe on campus.
"The Carpenter Complex doesn't really feel like it's on-campus," Tubinis says. "It's not like somebody got shot by the fountain [in the middle of campus]."