ORLANDO, Fla. — The former University of Central Florida student who killed himself in a dorm room early Monday had planned to kill others but apparently changed his mind and took only his own life, police said.
The deceased, identified as James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30, was found in his dorm room in Tower 1, a seven-story structure near the UCF Arena.
UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said writings found in the student’s room indicated “there was a planned attack.”
Officers found an assault weapon, a handgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and, in a backpack, handmade explosives when they searched the man’s room.
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 pulled a fire alarm in Tower 1 shortly after midnight and planned to injure other students as they evacuated, Beary said. But he changed his mind after the alarm sounded, they believe, returned to his room and killed himself.
That may have happened because he 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 the man to alter his plans.
“When people are on a mission, it doesn’t take much confusion to alter that,” Beary said.
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 not immediately remove him from the campus residence, where he lived on the third floor of the building. But the university was in the process of removing him, officials said.
Beary said the deceased had three roommates but one was out of state 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.”
By late Monday afternoon, UCF had re-opened Tower 1 to the hundreds of students who had been evacuated from their dorm when the fire alarm sounded and spent the rest of the night in the student union and the nearby arena. UCF classes were canceled for the morning but resumed at noon.
Beary said both the guns found in Seevakumaran’s room were purchased from an Orlando gun shop, with at least one 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 had not had any UCF student conduct issues nor had he ever been seen by the UCF counseling services department, they said.
Police said he has family in Florida but did not say where.
UCF Police, the FBI and Orange County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad converged on the building to investigate and secure the weapons.
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 the events of the night to “look for lessons that can be learned.”
One area the university might make changes to 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.
At about 12:20 a.m. Monday, the fire alarm registered for Tower 1, a residence hall in Knights Plaza near the arena and Bright House Networks stadium.
While UCF police were on the way, officers received a 911 call about a man with a gun in that residence hall. When they arrived, police found Seevakumaran dead.
Student Elaine Sayre, who was among those evacuated from the building, said during a late-morning interview that she was frustrated by how little information students received and was suddenly unsure of how safe she was on campus.
“These walls are paper-thin,” Sayre said of the Tower 1 dorm. “You can hear the toilet flushing upstairs. If it was a bomb, how many floors could it have taken out?”
Before this 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?”
She and her roommate, Kathryn Wood, were among a handful of students sitting outside the arena Monday morning, waiting for news — and for the crime-scene tape to be removed from their residence.
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.
As they ate pizza in a student cafeteria 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. No one knew anything for sure,” Strebeck added.
The evacuated students — many in pajamas and some barefoot — were shuffled around, students said, eventually sent to the Student Union and then to the arena. University officials provided the students blankets and pillows and later free food, toiletries and bright yellow UCF T-shirts. They were also told counseling services were available.
“We fell asleep on the basketball court for like two hours,” said Walsh, adding that he appreciated the efforts to take care of the evacuated students.
Students said Tower 1 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.
UCF junior Michelle August lives in Tower 1 and, like others, didn’t initially think much of the fire drill that sent students from the dorm.
By morning, still in her pajamas and barefoot, August said she was feeling “a little bit crazy.”
She didn’t know the man who took his life but said it was disturbing to think he had lived in her building.
“This kid somehow got a gun in his room. It’s scary,” she said.