Ala college has beefed-up security since shooting

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OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — Three years after a shooting fatally injured a woman and hurt three other people at Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, a law enforcement official says the institution has enhanced security.

Thomas Franklin May III was charged with capital murder and attempted murder in the April 6, 2011 shooting. Jury selection for his trial is scheduled to begin Monday, and May is fighting a potential death penalty.

Jimmy Holmes, chief of police for Southern Union State Community College, had been on the job for six months when a shooting occurred.

"My oldest step-daughter, at the time, was a student on the Opelika campus and she was down there when it all happened," Holmes said. "She called her mother, and her mother called me and seconds after that, we had a security firm call and tell me."

After receiving the call from DSI Security Services, a security group working the campus at the time, Holmes drove 45 minutes from the Wadley campus to Opelika, where Brenda Marshall Watson was fatally wounded while sitting with relatives in a car.

Also injured were her daughter, Bethany May, Bethany May's grandmother, Maude Ethell Marshall, and May's daughter.

When Holmes arrived, he found that the Opelika Police Department was already on scene and had arrested May, 37, of Opelika.

"I knew it was going to be tough, but I was really relieved when I got there that they (Opelika police) had already gone there," Holmes said. "I can't say enough good things about them."

May has pleaded innocent by reason of mental problems. The man walked up to members of the media in a parking lot after the shooting and was arrested after reporters and photographers called 911.

Holmes said that since the shooting, the Opelika campus has adopted enhanced security measures, hiring a full-time police officer to work during the day, as well as a part-time officer and part-time security guard for the evenings.

"We put that into high gear into getting a certified police officer as quick as possible," he said. "It's just better to have an armed police officer that knows how to handle that situation down there, whereas a security guard can't do anything and is not trained to handle something like that."

In addition, both the Wadley and Opelika campuses recently installed an emergency horn and microphone to inform students and faculty on emergencies. Southern Union received the equipment through a grant from the Randolph County Emergency Management Agency.

"In law enforcement, there's not a lot of grant money out there anymore and they're kind of moving away from that, but if you're in public safety or especially stuff for schools, there's still some grant money out there," he said.

Holmes said his department is always working toward making students and faculty safe.

"As a general rule, law enforcement has been pretty much reactive, and over the last 10 years, we've become more proactive," he said.


Information from: Opelika-Auburn News,

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