GUNS POINTED: Yamba woman's inside view of uni lockdown
IT WAS like any other day at Southern Cross University for Vanessa Bates from Palmers Channel.
The first-year full-time Health and Human Science student was sitting on a table near the windows of the library talking with a girlfriend when an alarm sounded just after 1.30pm.
No one thought much of the warning, with a similar alarm sounded during an evacuation drill a month previous, and people kept on with their day.
Then the day took a dramatic turn.
Reacting to a phone-call that made threats about activity around Southern Cross University, police burst into the building, accompanied by staff and came over towards the group.
"They said 'Get down! Get away from where you can be seen through the window. Get down and hide," Ms Bates said.
She said everyone remained calm and found cover where they could, underneath the library staircase a popular spot to hide.
"There was a lot of talking. People were on their phones, trying to find out what was going on. We heard there was a shooter in the foyer," Ms Bates said.
"Still, the situation was quite calm."
Then, Ms Bates said police armed with machine guns entered the library, and ordered the hundreds of people to move up the stairs to the other side of the library, and put their hands on their head.
"I think at the beginning a lot of people thought it wasn't serious, but when you see ten armed police all with big machine guns, and they were pointing the gun at you and telling you to put your hands on your head, you realise it's serious," she said.
"I think at one stage I went to take a photo with my phone and the office swung around and told me to drop the phones... we all had to drop the phones and keep our hands on our head."
They remained like this until around 5pm they were evacuated out to the car park, ten at a time.
"I think it hit me when I saw the police, and you think you see it in the movies when they let hostages out of a building with hands up, when we were led out ten at a time, that's when it hit me," Ms Bates said.
"I was lucky I had my bag on my back, a lot of people had to leave everything - bags, phones and keys behind, and many of them were hungry as they hadn't eaten.
At around 5.30pm, the people gathered in the carpark were told that they could catch a bus down to the Lismore Square, or walk, but anyone with a car wouldn't be able to take it at that time.
Ms Bates took the opportunity to go back to a friend's house in Lismore and stay the night.
"I"m a bit shaken up, but I think that's because I'm at a friends place. If I had've gone home to my family, it'd all come out," she said.
"I talked to them when it first started, and they just told me to stay out of the way and hide.
Ms Bates said she was glad to hear that there was no shooter in the school as was first feared, and said they were fortunate.
"Considering what's happened with recent events, in Christchurch and all over the world we were lucky," she said.
"It really brings it back to reality. It can happen anywhere."