FBI arrests UVa-Wise student in hoax

Federal officials on Monday arrested the UVa-Wise student charged with phoning in a fake report of a gunman in Culbertson Hall on Jan. 23, saying he admitted doing so “to obtain some form of hero status” and to better his standing in another court case.

A Virginia State Police car sits outside Culbertson Hall on Jan. 23. Several local police agencies also responded to the report of a gunman that caused a campus lockdown. Police now say that the report was a hoax. Photo by Jordan Fifer | The Highland Cavalier
A Virginia State Police car sits outside Culbertson Hall on Jan. 23. Several local police agencies also responded to the report of a gunman that caused a campus lockdown. Police now say that the report was a hoax. Photo by Jordan Fifer | The Highland Cavalier

Bryant Alexander Hairston, 20, of Martinsville, is charged by the FBI with “knowingly making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations,” according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court.

Having just been served a warrant earlier in the day on an unrelated assault and battery charge, police allege the sophomore psychology major phoned in the hoax “to prove that the earlier warrant was not accurate about his character,” according to the federal court documents.

Hairston had been accused by another UVa-Wise student of assaulting her in her Culbertson Hall bedroom on Jan. 19, according to a warrant filed in Wise County General District Court. The 18-year-old woman later swore out a criminal complaint for the misdemeanor assault and battery charge.

The woman said that Hairston entered her room around 9:30 p.m on Jan. 19. She said she recognized him from a few days before but didn’t know his name.

“He asked if he could lay with me and I said no,” the woman wrote, saying she had a boyfriend.

Bryant A. Hairston, 20, is charged by federal authorities.
Bryant A. Hairston, 20, is charged by federal authorities.

She said Hairston threw her against a wall, told her “not to tell him what to do,” and then asked if she had any condoms.

She then reported the incident to her resident adviser and to campus police before swearing out the warrant in front of a magistrate.

So on Jan. 23, officials allege, Hairston phoned 911 “to show that he was not a bad person and was not guilty of the charges he was served on earlier,” UVa-Wise campus police Officer Kevin Yates wrote in court documents.

Hairston admitted to fabricating the incident so he could later show in court that he was a good person for calling in the gunman, Yates wrote.

The 911 call shortly before 9 p.m. brought heavily armed police officers to the college to back up UVa-Wise campus police before officials determined Hairston’s claims were fraudulent.

The campus was locked down and students were ordered to “hunker down” for nearly two hours as officers from several agencies, including the Virginia State Police, searched Culbertson, Commonwealth and other residential buildings with their tactical weapons drawn.

No one was injured in the incident, officials said.

Police officers at the scene yelled to bystanders to retreat back into buildings, blocking the entrances and exits to campus with their cars.

[box style=”rounded”]Related: Campus reacts to Wednesday lockdown[/box]

While police were doing a building-by-building search, other officers were interviewing Hairston, who had called emergency operators saying there was a man with a pistol wearing a facemask and a gray sweat suit, according to the criminal complaint.

“I need some assistance,” Hairston had told the 911 dispatcher, according an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Timothy Burke in federal court. “When I was going up the stairs I saw him … I’m Bryant Hairston.”

Under questioning later that night, Hairston admitted to Yates that “his way of showing people that he was a good person and not capable of this assault was to phone in this incident and look as if he was saving lives,” Burke wrote.

Several times and to several different officials, Burke said, Hairston asked if the incident might make the news.

One Wise Police Department officer said Hairston asked, “Is this going to be on the news? I saved a lot of lives, you know?”

Hairston asked the same question of a Virginia State Police trooper, Burke wrote.

“I sure am glad I was able to save all these students,” Hairston reportedly told the trooper.

Hairston was charged by campus police following the Jan. 23 incident with making a false report to law enforcement.

That charge was dropped Monday after a hearing in Wise County General District Court and replaced with the federal case, said Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Ramseyer was not immediately available for comment. Defense attorney Anthony Collins, listed in court records as Hairston’s lawyer, could not immediately be reached.

The FBI has jurisdiction in such a case because the incident took place at a public college.

Hairston was released from custody Tuesday on a $10,000 unsecured bond pending a February hearing, court records show.

College spokeswoman Kathy Still said Hairston is not allowed on campus pending the outcome of his charges.

If convicted of the new federal charge, Hairston could be fined or face up to five years in prison.

Jordan Fifer

Interdisciplinary studies major Jordan Fifer served as The Highland Cavalier's editor-in-chief and online editor in the 2012-2013 academic year. He previously served as staff writer, news editor and photo editor.

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