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Former UCF student who killed himself had planned wider attack

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 10:53 a.m. CDT

(MCT) ORLANDO, Fla. — A former University of Central Florida student still living on campus drafted plans to kill others in his dormitory but changed his mind early Monday and took only his own life, police said.

James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30, was found in his dorm room in Tower 1, a seven-story structure near the UCF Arena. He died from a single shot to the head fired by one of his newly purchased guns, police said.

UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said writings found in his dorm room indicated “there was a planned attack.”

When they searched his room, officers found an assault weapon, a handgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and, in a backpack, handmade explosives. The assault rifle had a magazine capable of holding 28 bullets, officials said.

“It could have been a very bad day for everyone here,” Beary said. “Let’s just face it: One shooting is bad enough. Multiples is unthinkable.”

Police suspect Seevakumaran, of Lake Mary, Fla., pulled a fire alarm in Tower 1 shortly after midnight and planned to shoot or injure other students as they evacuated, Beary said. But they believe he changed his mind, returned to his room and killed himself.

That may have happened because he first pulled a gun on one of his roommates, who then escaped to a bathroom and called 911. The sound of police arriving may have prompted Seevakumaran to alter his plans.

A roommate, Beary said, described Seevakumaran as someone who had “anti-social” tendencies, but not as someone he suspected of violence nor someone known to have weapons. His only other involvement with police seemed to be for a traffic violation and an accusation he sold alcohol to someone who was underage.

UCF officials said Seevakumaran had not paid the university for this semester and was no longer an enrolled student. But UCF tried to take a “compassionate approach” and did not immediately remove him from the campus residence, where he lived on the third floor of the building. However, the university was in the process of removing him, officials said.

Beary said the deceased had three roommates but one was out of town for the weekend. One called police from the dorm bathroom, and the other fled when the fire alarm went off.

“It’s a tragedy, but it’s not an unspeakable tragedy,” said UCF President John Hitt at an afternoon news conference. “A life was lost, but it was the life of the perpetrator.”

Classes at the university — the second largest in the nation by enrollment — were canceled for the morning but resumed at noon. By afternoon, most of the sprawling campus was bustling as usual, though crime scene tape and police cars restricted access near Tower 1, a relatively new addition to the 50-year-old university.

Beary said both the guns found in Seevakumaran’s room were purchased from an Orlando gun shop, with a first purchase in February.

One was a High Point 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol and the other an American Tech 22-magnum tactical rifle. The rifle, Beary said, could easily have been hidden in a gym bag and brought undetected into the apartment building. Firearms are not allowed on campus.

Police also found a backpack containing four “improvised” explosives. Officials would not say what the explosives were made of, but they did say that the bombs “were not in final completed stages.” They also said the explosives, together, would not have had enough power to bring down the apartment building.

As they investigated the scene, officials uncovered notes from Seevakumaran indicating he had planned an attack in the building. He had laid out a time line but did not give a lot of specific details, Beary said, and did not mention any specific people he wanted to kill.

Seevakumaran was a business major who had been enrolled at UCF from fall 2010 to fall 2012. He had transferred to UCF from Seminole State College, officials said. He was a graduate of Seminole High in Sanford, Fla.

He had not had any UCF student conduct issues, nor had he ever been seen by the UCF counseling services department, they said.

UCF Police, the FBI and Orange County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad converged on the building to investigate and secure the weapons early Monday.

Hitt said that it appeared that police responded appropriately and the protocols that had been put in place had been followed. Still, Hitt said, the university will analyze events leading up to Seevakumaran’s death and actions taken afterward.

One area the university might change is its policy of allowing students to remain in on-campus housing even after they fail to make their housing payments, he said. Seevakumaran had stopped paying his dorm rent.

Hitt said university officials have combed their records and found only one other former student in campus housing. That person is now being asked to vacate, he added.

Residents of Tower 1 said it is divided into four-student units, with each student assigned his or her own room, and then a shared kitchen and living room. There are about 21 units on each of the seven floors, they said.

Student Elaine Sayre, who was among those evacuated from Tower 1, said she was suddenly unsure of how safe she was on campus.

“These walls are paper-thin,” Sayre said of the dorm. “You can hear the toilet flushing upstairs. If it was a bomb, how many floors could it have taken out?”

Before Monday morning, Sayre said, she never imagined that someone might have weapons in a room. “You are going to wonder, walking down the halls,” she said. “What does someone have in their room?”

Students in the dorm said the fire alarm initially was annoying but not overly worrisome. But when they evacuated the building and police started yelling for students to move across the street, they realized something more serious had happened.

“We thought it was just a stupid fire drill,” said Matthew Walsh, a freshman who was “dead asleep” when it went off.

Walsh grabbed his phone and wallet. One of his roommates, Taylor Strebeck, a senior, took nothing but his student ID.

By Monday afternoon, both said they were exhausted and frustrated with how little information was available beyond the “alerts” the university sent out via text and email.

Those alerts “were very vague,” Walsh said.

“It was just a bunch of speculation,” Strebeck added. “No one knew anything for sure.”

Although Tower 1 had re-opened by Monday evening, few lights were on in dorm rooms.

UCF parent Sylvia Fox said she had driven to campus Monday morning to pick up her daughter and a roommate — residents of Tower 1’s second floor — to bring them home to Winter Haven for the day.

Fox took the two back to campus Monday evening so they and a third roommate could speak to counselors about the fear and anxiety they were feeling.

“My biggest thing is we’re on the second floor,” said Caitlin Calhoun, 19, a freshman majoring in the health sciences. “I just keep picturing us being in the stairwell and him coming down. We were right underneath him.”

Erika Fox, also a freshman, said she will be leery of fire drills from now on, not knowing what she might expect if she responds to one in the dorms in the future.

“If there’s another fire drill, I will probably stay inside until I feel safe,” she said.

Sylvia Fox said she knows violence like this is not unique to UCF. But her daughter’s sense of security is gone.

“I can’t get over thinking about what could have happened if the guy in the bathroom hadn’t called police,” said sophomore Rebecca Montgomery, 20.

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Amy Pavuk and Adrienne Cutway of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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©2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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