NBC Montana is following up after it obtained internal emails showing University officials playing catch-up, after reports of an alleged assault near campus hit the news before the school sent out their own alert and five hours after the alleged attack. Officials now also tell NBC Montana that University Police first found out about the alleged attack at around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, despite previously reporting to NBC Montana a narrative that began with the UM Police Chief finding out about the incident around 9 p.m.
UM officials say that initial call time is “new information to the University,” and officials are now looking into what exactly happened in that roughly two hours.
First, a bit of context on the alleged attack:
The police report says an 18 year old UM student was knocked to the ground and strangled, as she walked from campus to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, around 7:10 Tuesday night. The woman was hurt, but did not need medical attention. The University sent out an alert at around 12:30 Wednesday morning. Police have still not found the suspect.
In following up with the story, NBC Montana found a discrepancy in the notification process timeline it was given by the University during an interview on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, when asked for the timeline of the attack and notification process, Vice President for Integrated Communications Peggy Kuhr gave a timeline that began with this statement:
“The initial conversation as I understand it, between the Missoula Police Department and the Office of Public Safety's police chief, Cheif Gary Taylor, was shortly after 9:00 pm.”
However, Assistant Missoula Police Chief (and soon to be Police Chief) Mike Brady sent an email to NBC Montana Friday claiming that University Police were first advised of the incident at 7:19 p.m. NBC Montana then sent an email to Peggy Kuhr, asking about the discrepancy and what happened in between the time UM Police were first notified and when the UM Police Chief was notified. Shortly after, Kuhr met up with NBC Montana staff for another interview, and explained the situation.
“You were asking questions and I was talking to Public Safety to find out what the answers are, so what I know is the [Office of Public Safety] police log does show a call at 7:20" ” said Kuhr. "As of this afternoon that's new information for the university."
When asked what happened between 7 and 9, Kuhr responded that “"What I can tell you is that we're looking into that. Internal communications is key, and we'll be looking into that so we can find out the answer."
When asked if the University had a message for students who had expressed dismay about learning about learning of the incident from news outlets rather than through the UM’s alert system, Kuhr said “The message that the University has, in this incident and always, [is that] safety is a priority. Effective communication goes hand in hand with that, and we're always looking at how that can be better.”
A string of emails obtained by NBC Montana shows University officials formulating a draft email / text alert late Tuesday night, more than an hour after news of the incident was reported in local news outlets. The final draft went out around midnight. Around that time, in an email to University and Public Safety officials, Kuhr wrote:
“Let’s schedule a debrief of this Wednesday morning. I think we need to make sure we find out abt such incidents sooner. Incident happened shortly after 7, and we learned about it hours later. From what I can tell [media outlets] were on top of this before we were.”
Later, UM President Royce Engstrom sent an email to UM Police Chief Gary Taylor, in which he states “Gary, Please talk with the new Chief to reinforce the need for communication.”
But now, there is that 2 hour gap from about 7 to 9, that no one’s accounting for. University officials are looking into it, but right now, it appears that the communication problem may be within the University hierarchy, a problem that left people in the dark for two hours, and students turning to the media, twitter and Facebook for information.