DICKINSON - Dickinson police say a Dickinson State University dean was found dead Friday afternoon from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Douglas LaPlante, the dean of education, business and applied sciences, had been reported missing at 9:27 a.m. after missing a meeting at the school. Officers responded to his home and found that he had left on foot, leaving behind his identification and cellphone, according to a statement from police. Officers also learned a large caliber rifle was missing from his home.

A passer-by saw him walking toward Rocky Butte Park, where his body was found near the band shell at the intersection of Seventh Avenue West and Sixth Street at 1:23 p.m. The police statement said the cause of death appears to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

DSU President D.C. Coston had called a 1 p.m. all-student meeting to explain problems with the university's special international student exchange program. Instead, he walked into Beck Hall, where students had crowded in, standing room only, grabbed the microphone and ordered the students to get to safe quarters.

Police said precautions were taken on campus due to LaPlante's apparently distraught condition.

A message was sent to students via a campus-wide emergency alert system called Notifind.

"An individual has been missing for six hours and believed to have a weapon. Until this individual is located, we are activating our emergency system. Faculty, staff and non-resident students are asked to leave campus immediately," the message said. "Resident students are asked to return to their residence halls or apartments and shelter in place. We will notify the campus via the campus emergency system as soon as this situation is resolved."

Later, students received another message that said, "The individual in question has been located and the threat to DSU has been resolved. Campus will remain closed for the day. Classes will resume on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012."

The emergency was not explained for another two hours, when the Dickinson Police Department confirmed reports that had been swirling about LaPlante's death.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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