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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.

Penn State Under Fire for Not Sending Text Alert After Off-Campus Shooting

Students were expecting to at least get an update on when the shooting was over and they were now safe. Image: iStock.com/tupungato

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. 

About the Author

Katie Malafronte
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Katie Malafronte is Campus Safety's Web Editor. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2017 with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Writing & Rhetoric. Katie has been CS's Web Editor since 2018.

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4 responses to “Penn State Under Fire for Not Sending Text Alert After Off-Campus Shooting”

  1. Tom D says:

    2 miles off campus is not in the Clery defined perimeter. A campus police dept or security dept cannot be responsible for posting about incidents they are not involved in or responsible for, especially in cities where there are always incidents occurring. If it affects a campus, most police departments are going to notify that campus and notifications will then be made. But it is ridiculous to think Penn State was irresponsible in this instance.

  2. ER says:

    I suspect the city didn’t send out an alert to it’s residents either….

  3. Eric D says:

    That is a good point, and true no less, it is outside of the Clery defined jurisdiction of the University, however…

    I looked up a few statistics quickly just to get an idea of the bigger picture and here is what I (Google) found:
    -Approx. 13,700 Students live on Campus at PSU Main Campus
    -98,783 Students attend PSU’s Main Campus (in 2017)
    -Resident population of State College is 42,430

    So long as Google was correct, This means that roughly 85% of their student body lives off campus, within commuting distance, and the students in that distance outnumber the residents about 2:1.

    If you check it out on the map, the town of State College is only about 6 miles across, outside of that roads are mostly rural 2 lane highways with privately owned residences here and there. So I think it would be safe to assume that the majority of the commuter students who live in State College, live in that area immediately surrounding the University.

    If it were my call to make, I would send alerts for any shooting within a 4 mile radius of the college simply because there are so many students who live in that area. Unfortunately i was not able to find a ballpark number for the number of shootings that occurred in State College, but I cannot imagine that the number is that high. There were only ~75 Violent crimes committed in the area last year and I’m sure not all of those were committed with firearms.

    The bottom line is that with shootings, information is key. By letting students know that there was a shooting at/near a specific address it lets them make an informed decision about their safety, even if it does occur on the other side of town and they don’t feel the need to take any action at all.

    We can Monday morning quarterback this all day long, but their Campus Police followed the operating procedures that they have in place, and have stated that they will re-evaluate those procedures going forward. That is really the best that anyone can ask for in this situation.

  4. Frank M. says:

    I go along with your evaluation, but I wonder how much more out of four (4) miles is “good enough” for the students. What about 4 1/2 miles ? I know, I am going too far, but what do our students expect of us but to make our best judgement.

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