Safety alert

Authorities expected to catch Dustin Evans soon after he escaped from an Edinburgh police officer at 5:40 a.m. Tuesday in Columbus.

But with daylight approaching at 7 a.m., police began reviewing what else they could do in the search, 911 Center director Ed Reuter said.

“They had exhausted all efforts to catch this guy with what resources they had,” Reuter said. “We needed to get eyes and ears working for us.”

That’s when public safety officials decided to alert the public through the Everbridge emergency notification system.

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At 7:38 a.m., a safety alert was sent to 11,000 local residents’ cellphones and computers within a three-mile radius of Eighth Street and Central Avenue — which is where Evans escaped from an Edinburgh police patrol car. Police believe Evans tricked the Edinburgh officer in letting him out of the patrol car by saying he was about to get sick.

The alert was issued about the same time many parents were sending their kids to school. Often, children are frightened the most about alerts like this, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.

Much of the fear likely can be traced to the ongoing coverage of Friday’s terrorist acts in Paris, said Melissa Newland, regional crisis manager for Centerstone Behavioral Health.

Psychologically, human-made traumatic events are far more distressing than natural disasters, Newland said. “Teenagers are especially more on edge after any terrorist acts; and when you get something local like this on top of it, it’s understandable why everybody becomes stressed,” she said.

The search continues

The search for Evans continued Wednesday, with some local residents providing tips to Columbus police about possible sightings.But as investigators continue to search for Evans, they also are evaluating a few things that might need to be worked out in the future.Police are investigating whether one frightened mother who wanted her children sent home may have fabricated a story about the suspect being in the area of Columbus East High School, Reuter said.

The intention at East was to simply lock certain doors and monitor entrances without disruptions, said Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. However, there was an announcement that the school was being placed on a lockdown, he said.

Lockdown can be used in cases of serious threats such as someone targeting the school from the outside or the inside. Many people interpret that phrase to mean that students would be locked up within a classroom and not allowed to leave, Perkinson said.

“On the floor where the administrative offices are, they were quick to announce it was a precaution and they were just locking the doors,” Perkinson said. “But if there are people on other floors (in the school) that say there was confusion, there probably was.”

That confusion, which likely resulted in some students sending fearful text messages or Facebook posts, shows BCSC still has work to do in choosing appropriate wording when making announcements, Perkinson said.

“We need terms that help us and don’t add to the frustration,” said Perkinson, who believes the confusion about the word “lockdown” was likely cleared up throughout the school within 10 minutes.

While the Everbridge alert, which is usually used for imminent threats, also might have generated some fear, sending it out was the right thing to do, Myers said.

“Just think what would have happened if we didn’t put it out, and this guy in handcuffs walked into a business or school?” Myers asked.

“Public safety has to err on the side of caution, because if we don’t, we will take a major hit.”

False information, more fear

Another reason Everbridge alerts are necessary is because of the amount of false information being disseminated through text messaging and social media including Facebook, Myers said.“Texting and social media sites do a lot of damage to communities by spreading false information,” Myers said. “People have an obligation to make sure what they are told is factual before they repeat it. If you don’t do your research, you are part of the problem.”In addition to East, additional security procedures happened at Columbus Signature Academy-Lincoln Campus, Central Middle School and Columbus Signature Academy-Fodrea, Perkinson said.

School Resource Officers Julie Quesenbery and Eric Stevens, both Columbus Police Department officers, decided to step up security at the schools closest to where Evans escaped, Perkinson said.

Those measures, which remained in effect at East, Lincoln, Central and Fodrea until the students were dismissed for the day, were appropriate and, for the most part, well executed, Perkinson said.

Columbus police received more than a dozen calls Tuesday about Evans, but those did not lead to his capture, according to Sgt. Matt Harris, Columbus police spokesman.

Evans’ hands were cuffed behind his back, which would have made it easy for someone to notice him, police believe. But it’s possible he might have found someone with either a handcuffs key or the mechanical means to remove them, Edinburgh Police Chief David Mann said.

“We don’t perceive him as a threat to anyone’s safety, except his own at this point,” Mann said.

Don’t approach, call police

Although Evans does not have a violent history, Harris still urged residents not to approach him. Instead, they should immediately call the nearest law enforcement agency, Harris said.After Evans — a former Columbus resident who has lived in Edinburgh and Franklin — escaped, there seemed to be about a 25-minute delay before the incident was reported to Columbus police, Harris said.But after they were notified, several officers set up a perimeter around Eighth and Central, including detectives, third-shift officers, and the police department canines, Harris said. Police also immediately notified nearby schools and other organizations, he added.

While police said they initially expected they would find Evans quickly, they realized that wasn’t going to happen shortly after 7 a.m., which prompted them to begin reviewing what else they could do in their search efforts, Reuter said.

That led to the Everbridge message a half-hour later, Reuter said.

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh Police Department has been gathering evidence, including radio recordings, to determine how Evans escaped from the officer, Mann said.

The department also will look into other possible procedural problems, including what may have caused a delay in notifying Columbus police about the escape, Mann said.

“We have to learn what happened during this incident to prevent further occurrences,” Mann said.

Evans description

Several law enforcement agencies statewide are on the lookout for a man who escaped police custody in Columbus early Tuesday.

Dustin Evans, 26, is described as a white man, 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds.

Police said Evans has tattoos on his neck and shoulder area and was handcuffed behind the back when he escaped.

When he was last seen, Evans was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a red shirt and blue shorts.

While several tips have been received, there’s no firm evidence to suggest whether the suspect is still in the area or has left south-central Indiana, according to Edinburgh Police Chief David Mann.  

Although he is not considered a public threat, those with information on his whereabouts are urged not to approach Evans, police said. Instead, they should contact their nearest law enforcement agency.   

Coping with the unknown

People can reduce anxiety by taking care of themselves physically, spiritually and emotionally. It is important to get rest and exercise, spend time with family and friends, and staying connected to external supports such as with church family and small groups.

Many with anxiety may cope with less healthier methods. In one survey the American Psychological Association found that almost half of Americans overeat to manage stress, 41 percent gamble, 40 percent smoke and 27 percent drink.

When it comes to getting help during stressful events or hard times, about half would be uncomfortable asking others for help, and six in 10 would be reluctant to get professional help.

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults (about 18 percent) in any given year. Other mental or physical illnesses occurring with anxiety may mask the symptoms or make them worse. Traumatic events can make anxiety worse.

Source: Mellisa Newland, Centerstone Behavioral Health 

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.