Brent Ahlers, a St. Catherine University security officer, apparently shot himself on Tuesday. Instead of admitting to it, he allegedly blamed an imaginary black man and lead investigators on a wild goose chase, the Star Tribune reported.
Ahlers, a 25-year-old white man, was reportedly afraid that he would lose his job if he told the truth, so he told St. Paul, Minn., police that a black man wearing a navy blue sweatshirt with a “short Afro” shot him in a wooded area near the campus, according to the Star Tribune.
The campus was put on lockdown while 55 officers, four K-9s and State Patrol aircraft looked for the “suspect.” Police didn’t publicly release the description because they were skeptical, the Star Tribune reported. The search ended at midnight.
Ahlers was arrested Wednesday night after allegedly walking back his comments. He was cited for falsely reporting a crime, which is a misdemeanor. Then he was treated for his injury, taken to the Ramsey County jail and released Thursday morning, per the Star Tribune.
Police said Ahlers told them the gun fired accidentally in the woods and he was afraid of getting fired for bringing his personal gun to work. Police said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with reckless discharge of a firearm, which is a more serious charge, the Star Tribune reported.
Firearms are not permitted on St. Catherine’s campus, according to the Pioneer Press. It’s not clear if Ahlers had a state-issued permit to carry a firearm in public.
St. Catherine University President Rebecca Koenig Roloff said Sept. 14, Ahlers was no longer employed.
“I want to be clear that St. Catherine University strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping, and racial profiling of any kind. The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values,” said a statement on the school’s website.
Bre Daoust, a student at St. Catherine, told the Pioneer Press “a lot of people who’ve had experiences with gun violence or traumatic experiences” were troubled by the event. But Roloff chose not to cancel classes in favor of “a return to normalcy.”
Black community leaders were disturbed by the incident.
“It’s a sickening thing,” Tyrone Terrill, president of the St. Paul African-American Leadership Council, told the Star Tribune. “He put not only black youth at risk, he put St. Paul police and other law enforcement at risk with his lie.”
Dianne Binns, president of the St. Paul NAACP, told the Star Tribune Ahlers’ alleged decision to blame an imaginary black man harkens back to hundreds of years of racial oppression.
“That’s what black people live with,” she said. “We’ve been lynched, and we’ve been put in jail to find out later you haven’t done it. That’s the sad thing about it. It hasn’t stopped.”