The bottle caps, broken glass and empty plastic cups littering a neighborhood near James Madison University’s campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, suggested that the events of Saturday afternoon were nothing more than a kegger gone bad. But those who witnessed the party-turned-riot recalled chaos so out of character for this Shenandoah Valley town that by Monday afternoon, it still had the power to amaze. “When you are setting off tear gas and people still aren’t leaving, you know it’s bad,” recalled a police official with the Harrisonburg Police Department. “It was really bad.” Each semester, James Madison students organize a huge block party, in one of the popular neighborhoods near campus, that typically attracts about 2,000 people. But when more than 8,000 people showed up to “Springfest” at a row of townhouses at the Forest Hill Manor development, the event quickly escalated, the police official and witnesses said. Rocks, beer bottles, and cans flew, hitting and injuring dozens of people and shattering car and house windows, according to police, witnesses and video of the events. Dumpsters were set ablaze. The response eventually involved about 200 police officers from several different agencies, many outfitted in riot gear and fighting back with canisters of tear gas, rounds of pepper spray, and foam projectiles. A Medevac helicopter arrived to take a casualty to a trauma center, and about three dozen others went to the local hospital. By the time it was over, Harrisonburg police said they had arrested at least 17 people and were studying uploaded YouTube videos for more suspects. Other law enforcement agencies made arrests, but the total numbers are still being tallied.
Security Magazine will be covering college and university security in June. Interested in an interview? Email firstname.lastname@example.org