WWU students, staff respond to riot

by: Deborah Horne Updated:


BELLINGHAM, Wash. - It was a chaotic scene even to veteran Bellingham police officers. Videos shot by eyewitnesses show hundreds of college-aged partygoers taking to the streets, causing big-city mayhem. Street signs were ripped out of the ground; police cars, smashed. All of it, within sight of Western Washington University's campus.

"Everyone's swarming the cars, started dancing, and people jumped up on top of the cars," said Jared Cortnik, a WWU senior. 

Cortnik was inside his house when the revelers from a party that had been shut down moved to Indian Street. Within an hour, he said, hundreds more people had arrived. But when officers showed up, Cortnik said, they didn't move in.

"So then people started mooning people, and the cops didn't do anything," said Cortnik. "They felt empowered even more so. So it got to the point where they started throwing stuff; to the point where it was just beer bottles and chairs."

He estimated it took another hour for SWAT officers to arrive. They used tear gas and flash grenades before gaining the upper hand. By then, Indian Street was barely recognizable to those who live there. 

"The entire street was just shimmering," said Emma Smith, a WWU  junior. "It was just a street of glass. It was crazy!"

After it was over, Smith, her roommate and several other students voluntarily cleaned up the neighborhood. Freshman Ian McKee from Kirkland said they wanted to do something to counter ''the bad publicity."

Gordon Brackett, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1975, said he and his wife, Betty Conlan "are ready to go somewhere else."

The riot isn't sitting well with them.

"The police were put in a very bad position because they were totally outnumbered and had to deal with a riot in the middle of our street," Conlan said. "This is our neighborhood."

Bellingham police tweeted early Sunday morning that they are continuing their investigation; continuing, too, to look at all those videos.

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard and Western Associated Student Body President Carly Roberts released a statement Sunday afternoon on the incident:

“Last night, in the vicinity of our campus, several hundred people refused to obey a lawful order to disperse.

The extent to which university students may have been involved has yet to be determined. Of the three arrests made, none were Western students.

Nevertheless, this "riot" in the community we are proud to call home has stunned us all, for it is so out of character. We are a university consistently recognized as the best of our type in the Pacific Northwest. Importantly in the current context, we are also a university recognized nationally, year after year, as foremost in the state of Washington for the engagement of our students in service to the community.

Consequently, we are all straining to understand why something like this happened. But first some facts as we currently understand them:

-We are thankful that, at this point, there are no reported serious injuries.

-We are also thankful that Western students were prominent among those who immediately stepped forward to clean up the area of the riot.

-While no Western students were among those arrested last night, public safety officers will be reviewing surveillance videos and criminal charges may then follow.

-Western will be reviewing records from the evening, and should there be evidence of Western student behavior, while not criminal but nevertheless in violation of our student conduct code, then our processes for enforcing that code will be followed.

We are a university that takes great pride in the commitments of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to making a positive difference. We invite you to join the two of us in reaffirming that commitment. We will be following up with advice on means for so doing.

Again, we do not yet know the extent of involvement by Western students in the events of last night. Arrest records suggest it was a fraction of the several hundred involved. Nevertheless, we are certain of this: 15,000 students, 2,200 faculty and staff, and 100,000 alumni join the two of us in emphasizing that such behavior has no place at Western. And, should any of our students be found to have engaged in lawless and destructive behavior, they have no place at Western.

This is also a teachable moment: for our students, for our university, and for university leaders. We pledge to use this experience as an opportunity to ever more strongly emphasize -- through actions as well as words -- what we proudly and together stand for.”

Bellingham police and WWU police are urging anyone who may have captured the incident on digital media or have any information to please contact Bellingham Police Detective Gina Crosswhite at 360-778-8835. Information can also be reported to Western Washington University Police Officer Jayson Christopherson at 360-650-3555.