Penn State Under Fire for Not Sending Text Alert After Off-Campus Shooting
Students turned to social media to voice frustration with Penn State for not sending text alerts about a shooting that was two miles off campus.
After a gunman was on the loose near Penn State’s campus last week, students are now calling out the university for not using its text alert system to keep them informed.
A shooting took place at a bar and residence near campus, resulting in four casualties, including the gunman, reports Penn Live.
The gunman, 21-year-old Jordan Witmer, fled the bar after killing two people, crashed his car and broke into a nearby home where he shot an 83-year-old man before taking his own life.
A fifth victim from the bar, Nicole Abrino, 21, is being treated for gunshot wounds at a Pittsburgh hospital.
The bar, P.J. Harrigans Bar & Grill, located at the Ramada Hotel and the victim’s residence, are about two miles from Penn State’s campus.
Never receiving any information from the school, many Penn State students were frightened throughout the night after hearing about a gunman on the loose and a shooting just down the street.
Leonard Feil, a sophomore who lives near the Ramada, said he learned about the gunman in a group chat with friends. Out of fear, he slept in his bathtub.
“The part that aggravates me the most is that they didn’t send an all-clear alert,” said Feil. “It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that I found out the suspect was stopped.”
Feil, along with many other students, now feel unsafe on campus because of the incident.
Penn State’s senior director of news and media relations, Lisa Powers, said in a statement that campus police determined there was a “lack of an imminent threat to Penn State students or the campus” and “decided that an alert would not be sent.”
Officials confirmed they are reviewing alert protocols involving off-campus shootings, reports Daily Item.
State College Borough Police Chief John Gardner said that an all-clear message could have been given sooner.
“I take ownership for that,” Gardner said. “There was no immediate threat to Penn State or its students.”
Amanda Maldonado, a junior, feels the lack of information was dangerous.
“The perpetrator was in a vehicle and could have easily driven toward campus rather than away,” she said. “His vehicle where he crashed was near my friend’s apartment, just blocks away. The home invasion could have been a student’s rather than an elderly couple.”
In 2016, Penn State was fined $2.4 million after the federal government determined it failed to meet alert guidelines.
Abigail Boyer, the Clery Center interim executive director, explained that off-campus locations are not clearly defined under the Clery Act.
“I can’t determine whether or not they were in compliance,” said Boyer. “But it’s an ongoing conversation at institutions when there are incidents that fall outside of Clery compliance but still might impact members of the community.”
In response, Penn State issued a statement that explained the decision to send alerts are made on a case-by-case basis.
“We will always review our responses to these incidents and will adjust our processes as needed,” the statement read.
*This the article was updated to property name John Gardner as the chief of police for State College Borough, a different law enforcement agency than University Police.
If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!
Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century
This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!