Minnesota State Mankato student sounds alarm after being left behind

Fire alarms went off in a Minnesota State University, Mankato dorm last August. As the building emptied, Valerie Weber said she was left behind.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 11:09 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 11:10 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Fire alarms went off in a Minnesota State University, Mankato dormitory last August.

Students rushed to evacuate, anxiously awaiting first responders.

But as the building emptied, Valerie Weber said she was left behind.

Weber stated, “I feel like they do not value my life. I feel like they do not want me here.”

She was born with a rare disorder that causes her bones to break easily.

It’s called osteogenesis imperfecta, and it requires her to use a wheelchair.

The graphic design student was just two weeks into her freshman year when the incident occurred.

Weber recently moved to the dorms – in a room the university assigned her to – on the second floor of Preska Residence Community.

Before the semester began, she was emailed MSU’s fire protocols for wheelchair users.

“Because during a fire, you can’t use an elevator, right? So, we make sure that students go to a spot on their floor and call our security dispatch,” added David Jones, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

When the alarms went off on Aug. 30, Weber said she followed the rules.

She said she placed several calls to Campus Security, who picked up but didn’t offer any help, only to not answer her subsequent calls.

The halls continued to empty until she was all alone in the lobby, left with nothing but the noise of echoing alarms.

Weber’s fear intensified as she waited for help, unsure of the extent of the emergency in her building.

Twenty minutes went by, and no one came.

“I became more and more scared as the minutes went by because I do not like loud noises and I don’t have earplugs or anything and also that nobody was going to come. It’s kind of like this feeling of hopelessness,” Weber mentioned.

The fire department later arrived and the alarms were shut off. Weber was sent back to her room.

She notified school officials about what happened, but she said her concerns were discredited and met with opposition.

“Nothing really has been resolved. We did have a meeting. It wasn’t very good,” Weber stated. “I was gaslit the whole time. They told me to watch out for myself.”

MSU said it’s worked with Weber to make several changes.

Jones added, “In working with her, we’ve been able to refine some of our practices. In this particular case, we found out that communication between one of our offices that told the student what to do was not relayed to our security office on what they should be able to do. So, we’ve been able to clean that up, learn from that experience and feel like we’ve got all the safety protocols in place now.”

But Weber said the school has yet to take *any* action, and she fears being in the same situation again.

“It’s also scary to know that at any moment, anywhere, I could be trapped,” Weber described. “And if people can’t find me in my place of residence, how can I expect them to find me on the second level of the library, or Trafton or Armstrong Hall?”

Weber urges MSU to invest in increasing handicap accessibility around campus, starting with dorms.

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