Fargo Police Mistake Students’ Telescope for Weapon

Junior Levi Joraanstad, a computer science major, uses his telescope to observe the moon.

A neighbor asked the two North Dakota State students if the big black object was a canon.

It wasn’t; rather, it was a telescope.

The students, Levi Joraanstad and Colin Waldera, went outside Monday night behind their garage to stargaze. The clear evening offered chances to photograph the waxing moon with the telescope.

Fifteen minutes later, as Joraanstad dug through his equipment bag, police blinded the two with a spotlight, demanding the students stop moving or they could be shot.

But Joraanstad and Waldera could not see who was demanding they submit, making them think at first it might be a prank.

“In my head, I was thinking that’s pretty illegal – impersonating a police officer,” Joraanstad said.

Walder said he complied, partly.

“I put my hands up halfway,” he said, he too thinking it was a prank.

The demands were no joke.

A Fargo police officer saw the two and thought they might be armed, authorities told local media.

Not knowing if they were about to be robbed or attacked, both Joraanstad and Walder said they were relieved to discover it was officers behind the spotlight.

They said they didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until after the incident, thinking of other possible outcomes.

But the students said they were actually glad this situation happened to them — not because of the bit of fame they are getting but because of how quickly the police reacted to a potential threat near campus.

“They responded accordingly,” said Joraanstad.

They advise those in similar situations to follow orders, for officers’ jobs are keeping the community and themselves safe.

As for regrets, Joraanstad said he wished he had snagged a picture with the officers after all the misunderstanding was cleared up.

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