Pennsylvania State University
‘I no longer feel safe here’: Penn State students angry with lack of school response to shooting
By Sarah Price
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State students lit up social media with complaints that the university did not inform them about shootings at a bar and a residence near campus on Thursday night.
Many students took to Twitter to express their dismay that the university did not use its text alert system to apprise them that a gunman was on the loose, especially since the university had alerted the campus community earlier that day that afternoon classes were canceled due to icy roads.
Four people died in the shootings, including gunman Jordan Witmer, a 21-year-old from Benner Township. Steven Beachy, 19, died early Friday after being shot at P.J. Harrigan’s Bar & Grill. His father, Dean Beachy, 62, of Millersburg, Ohio, died at the scene on Thursday night. Nicole Abrino, 21, is being treated for gunshot wounds at a Pittsburgh hospital.
Witmer fled the bar, crashed his car at the intersection of Tussey Lane and Waupelani Drive, then broke into a nearby house, where he shot and killed George McCormick, 83, before taking his own life.
Both the Ramada Inn, where the bar is located, and the Waupelani Drive neighborhood, where McCormick lived, are about 2 miles from campus.
“I had just gotten home and decided to check a group chat and they had said that there was a shooting,” said Leonard Feil, a sophomore. “That’s when I found out it was at the Ramada and he was still at large. I am a five-minute walk from the Ramada. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that I found out the suspect was stopped. I was terrified that he would break in and kill me as well.”
Ammanda Maldonado, a junior, said she was shocked at how close the hotel was to two of her friends.
“They both live in that direction,” she said. “I messaged both instantly and neither of them were aware until I informed them.”
When asked why the university did not inform its students that there was a gunman on the loose, Lisa Powers, Penn State’s senior director of news and media relations, sent a statement that said that campus police determined that there was a “lack of an imminent threat to Penn State students or the campus” and therefore “decided that an alert would not be sent.”
The statement said the university would “adjust our processes as needed.”
“I slept in my bathtub because I didn’t know if it was safe to come out. The part that aggravates me the most is that they didn’t send an all-clear alert,” said Feil. “Thanks to this one incident, I no longer feel safe here.”
At a briefing held at the State College borough municipal building on Friday afternoon, Police Chief John Gardner acknowledged that the all-clear could have been given sooner.
“I take ownership for that,” Gardner said. “There was no immediate threat to Penn State or its students. Relatively speaking, State College is one of the safest places in America.”
In his 29 years with the State College police, Gardner said he has never seen something like this.
Still, Maldonado said, the incident happened near the campus. “The perpetrator was in a vehicle and could have easily drove toward campus rather than away. 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.”
State College police say Witmer was drinking with Abrino but did not know the Beachys or McCormick. They do not yet know a motive for the shootings.
Witmer had a lawful permit to carry the firearm and served in the military. Whether he was active duty is still being determined.
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