MAGNOLIA -- One student was killed and another wounded in a shooting early Tuesday on the campus of Southern Arkansas University, hours before the start of the first day of fall courses.
Joshua Keshun Smith, 21, of Sparkman was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a statement released by the university. Smith was a senior studying engineering physics, the statement said.
Another student, whose identity was not released, was hospitalized at Magnolia Regional Medical Center after the shooting.
The incident took place around 12:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the Donald W. Reynolds Campus and Community Center, the university statement said.
Additional details about what led up to the shooting and the status of the investigation were unavailable Tuesday. Police have released no information regarding a suspect or suspects.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, university President Trey Berry said officials went ahead with the first day of classes as planned after law enforcement personnel assured school officials that the shooting was an "isolated incident." Police did not believe there was any imminent threat to the rest of the campus, he said.
"It wasn't some random act," Berry said.
University police advised university officials not to lock down the campus, Berry said, and as a result the first day of classes, as well as the second day of late registration, proceeded on schedule.
"In the midst of a tragedy -- an unbelievable tragedy -- we're trying to keep some semblance of normalcy going on on campus," Berry said.
University police are leading the investigation in cooperation with the Arkansas State Police and the Magnolia Police Department, according to Berry.
Berry said the wounded student was in stable condition at the hospital, describing him as "alert and awake."
Smith and two other students who live off-campus arrived at the parking lot after midnight and met "individuals not believed to be associated" with the institution, according to the university statement. "After a brief encounter, shots were fired," the statement said.
Berry said he had no information on whether a suspect or suspects at the scene were university students, and he referred to the ongoing investigation.
"I'm hopeful that we can get that answered really quickly," he said. "We have a great university police department here."
Derek Avery, a sergeant with the Southern Arkansas University Police Department, said records related to the shooting could not be released as of Tuesday evening because of the ongoing investigation.
Face-to-face courses are happening this fall at SAU, albeit with additional precautions because of the covid-19 outbreak.
The campus was active Tuesday, with no visible signs of the shooting that occurred in the predawn hours. Students wearing masks walked through the Reynolds Center and chatted with one another outdoors on the grassy quad adjacent to the building.
The Reynolds Center houses the university bookstore, a cafeteria and other offices. On Tuesday afternoon, cars filled a large parking lot across the street from the center.
Geovanni Williams-Smith, 20, was reading a Tom Clancy book under a tree outside of the center. He said he heard about the shooting around 6 a.m. Tuesday.
"Man, it was pure shock because this isn't that type of campus," he said. "I've never heard of something that violent taking place at SAU."
Williams-Smith, a senior from Magnolia majoring in supply chain management, said the incident "kind of broke my heart a little bit because it's the first day."
Other students seemed to be going about their day like normal, he said.
Sophomore Hillyn Vardeman, 19, and junior Casie Greeson, 20, were manning a table for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry beneath a small tent set up on the lawn.
Vardeman, who is from Russellville, said she received a series of text messages around 7 a.m. asking if she was OK because she lives in the residence hall right next to the parking lot.
When asked about the decision to move forward with classes after the shooting, Vardeman said, "I don't know. I can see both sides of it."
"I think that out of respect it might have been nice to cancel classes this morning," Vardeman said, but she added that university officials might have wanted to get the start of classes underway in light of "all of the unknown factors" surrounding the covid-19 outbreak.
Junior Justice Glenn, 20, a middle school education major, said she and some of her friends were sitting outside early Tuesday when they spotted the police lights, but they just assumed someone had been pulled over.
Some students were upset about the decision not to cancel classes. Glenn said she shared their point of view, explaining that because police have yet to arrest a suspect, students do not know the identity of the shooter.
"They could be walking around here at any point, and we're out here, putting us in danger," Glenn said as she sat at a table outdoors on the quad.
Asked about the criticism related to starting classes on schedule, Berry acknowledged that some people had asked why officials did not lock down the campus.
"But when we explain the situation, they have been very, very understanding," he said.
As far as comparable incidents that have taken place at the university in recent memory, Berry said, "we're in uncharted territory right here."
Over the decades, the university has experienced students who have died, he said, "but we've never had anything like this."
"We have a very safe campus," Berry said. "We have a very strong campus, a resilient campus. I mean, we've just been amazed at the outpouring of love from the students, the support from the students and from the faculty, staff.
"Alumni have just come out of the woodwork, you know, saying, 'we're here to support you.'"