Manhunt leads to lockdown


Pablo Ortiz | The Chart

Local police and the Jasper County Sherrif’s Department respond to a potential fugitive in the Joplin area Sept. 29. The suspect was wanted in connection with a homicide and was later apprehended near Seventh and Summit Ave.

A massive manhunt Tuesday night near the intersection of Seventh Street and Duquesne Road led to the capture of homicide suspect Clinton Blizzard. The proximity of the search area to Missouri Southern led to a temporary lockdown of residence halls on campus. Blizzard, 26, was being pursued in connection with the fatal shooting Saturday of 35-year-old Nathaniel “Steven” Higgins in Wentworth.

“We were concerned that, being so close to campus, we should take some precautions,” said Ken Kennedy, chief of the University Police Department. “We secured the exterior doors of the dorm area and decided to go ahead and lock the security doors to the recreation center and the Spiva Library. Classes were about to get out at that point, around 9 p.m., so the officers just monitored that and watched, and thankfully nothing happened.”

Campus police use two levels of emergency notification in urgent situations. The lower level, used Tuesday night, is known as a timely warning. This involves sending out email notifications informing students and faculty of a situation and advising them to be cautious.

The second level would have been activated if Southern’s campus had been inside the suspect’s perimeter. This level involves the emergency notification being sent out by text message through the RAVE system.

Blizzard was spotted driving in Joplin Tuesday night by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, which led to a brief vehicle pursuit and crash near 10th Street and Duquesne Road. The suspect proceeded to flee into some woods on the east side of Duquesne.

Several law enforcement agencies responded and quickly set up a perimeter around the area to begin the search.

“Holding the perimeter is a critical factor in a search like this,” said Duquesne Police Commissioner Gary Heilebrun.

After combing the woods with a SWAT team and police dogs, a Joplin Police Department sniper spotted the suspect in a field off Summit Ave. The team converged on the suspect and took him into custody.

“I was driving home around 9 p.m., and the report came over the radio,” said Katherine Skaggs, sophomore communications major. “I kind of freaked out because I was on Seventh headed to Southern, and there were cops everywhere. When I finally pulled onto campus, there was no one outside, and everything was locked down; it was scary.”

Despite warnings to lock the residence hall doors as a precaution, some students say this was not done.

“The doors of the apartment-style dorms were unlocked,” said Cora Butcher-Spellman, junior public relations major. “One was propped open with a door stop from the time we received the first email until after the time we received the second. I appreciated the emails from the school, but I think people would’ve felt more safe with the doors of the dorms locked. I assume the [resident assistants] dropped the ball or the message that the doors should be closed didn’t get passed down to the right people.”

“Obviously we don’t have enough people in an emergency situation to check every door on campus,” said Kennedy. “The RAs were assisting us in trying to make sure everything was closed down over there, but obviously some things are going to fall through the cracks. It’s unfortunate, and I wish it wouldn’t have happened, but those things do happen.”

Blizzard, now jailed in Lawrence County, Mo., on a $1 million bond, has been charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.