Like thousands of University of Minnesota students and staffers, I got the text just after midnight.

"UMN Alert," it began. "An attempt robbery & stabbing of student. ..."

This was no test.

Although the U's text-alert system, called TXT-U, was started a few years ago, U police have hesitated to use it lately.

That got them in trouble earlier this semester, when a student was shot near a dorm on campus. Parents questioned why their children had to wait hours before learning more about the shooting.

"It was exactly this situation -- random, yet intentional shootings on a University campus -- that caused the creation of TXT-U in the first place," the Minnesota Daily's editorial board wrote, "and it should have been used in this situation."

Chief Greg Hestness said then that in hindsight, the U should have sent a text. It wasn't exactly what the system was meant for -- the suspects had fled so there wasn't an ongoing threat -- but it would have given people "peace of mind," he told me.

"On reflection, we don't have a good way to get out a lot of information in the middle of the night, other than that," Hestness said.

But he worried that a text's 140-character limit would create more questions than answers.

Tuesday's early morning text was a good test. In full, it read:

"UMN Alert: An attempt robbery & stabbing of student occurred at 11 Av/6 St SE @ 9:40p. Wht male susp, grn/wht hoodie, gray beard. More info to follow via email."

Location, suspect, a promise of more information.

Students later received an e-mail with details about the crime, which occurred just off-campus, the status of the victim, which was "stable," and where to call with any information: (612) 692-8477. Parents got an e-mail message, too.

Soon all students will automatically be subscribed to these TXT-U alerts. Until then, you can sign up at:

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168