Two armed robberies and one attempted armed robbery occurred on Wednesday and Friday just off Gannon University’s campus.
Two Gannon students and an Erie woman were victimized in these robberies.
According to Les Fetterman, assistant director of Gannon’s Police and Safety Office, the first robbery occurred in the 200 block of West Eighth Street around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. An Erie woman was walking to work from Liberty Street when she said somebody came up behind her.
She said she felt someone put something against the back of her head, which she thought was a gun even though she couldn’t see it.
Fetterman said the suspect then took her purse and left the scene. The woman said she then cut back across West Seventh Street to go home and saw the suspect in a backyard going through her purse.
She hid in the shadows waited for him to leave and then reported the incident to Erie police. Gannon found out about the incident later when Erie police reported it to them.
The second incident happened later the same day around 7:25 a.m. near Kenilworth Apartments on West Sixth and Chestnut streets, Fetterman said.
A male Gannon international student was approached by a suspect fitting the same description as the first robbery. The victim said the suspect held a gun against his abdomen and demanded his cell phone.
The student was not harmed but the suspect ran westbound and across Chestnut Street and down Sixth Street with the victim’s cell phone, Gannon police said.
The third incident, which was an attempted armed robbery, occurred in the 200 block of West Eighth Street when a female international student came out of her house.
The suspect came up to her, pointed a gun at her and demanded her cell phone. She told him it was broken, during which time a campus police officer on patrol interrupted the robbery in progress.
Fetterman said the student was not hurt but the suspect saw the officer approaching and fled the scene.
The officer transported the student to where she needed to go and then searched for the suspect.
The officer saw a person fitting the suspect’s description riding a bicycle, but because it wasn’t in the same time frame, he couldn’t be sure of the identity.
Fetterman said that all three suspects were described in very close resemblance to each other – a medium to dark skinned black male in his early to late 20s, height ranging from 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall.
The suspect was described as wearing a dark gray hooded sweatshirt during the first and third incidents. The suspect in the second incident was described as wearing a cream-colored button down shirt.
Les Fetterman, assistant director of the Office of Police and Safety, said that he believes that all three incidents involved the same suspect.
He also said that all of the major businesses in the area have been informed of these events.
“We’re sharing information with the Erie Police,” Fetterman said. “We’ve also notified the Erie County Sheriffs Department.”
Fetterman said they also notified the courthouse, Erie insurance and Hamot, all of which sent out informative announcements to their employees.
Fetterman said that notifying the local businesses is regular practice when incidents like this happen.
“One reason why we do that is for their safety, which is our main concern,” Fetterman said. “It’s also so if they see anything suspicious, they know to report it.”
Fetterman said Gannon has extra patrols out in regard to these incidents.
Fetterman also said that Police and Safety is strongly urging students to use caution when walking to and from places by walking in pairs whenever possible and staying in well-lit areas.
They are also urging students to keep their cell phones in concealed places and refrain from using earbuds.
Fetterman also said to try to be aware of where the emergency call boxes are and always be aware of your surroundings.
If students have to walk somewhere during the night hours, they are urged to use the Gannon University Escort Service Team (GUEST), which is designed to enhance students’ safety and peace of mind.
Fetterman said Police and Safety will be revamping the GUEST program to make it more student-friendly. The program will be rebranded as The Knight Watch in order to remarket it and get program known to students.
“The reason why they should use [the service] is not because they have special training, it’s not because of their size, it’s because they carry a police radio and they walk with you,” Fetterman said.
“If something bad happens they can get right on the radio and it goes right to the officers that are patrolling and to dispatch.”
Fetterman said the dispatchers can immediately send out Erie police and Gannon officers.
He also said the call boxes operate in the same way. When the button on the boxes is pushed, the location is sent out over the radio so officers know where you’re at before you even have to talk.
Fetterman said before these events occurred, Gannon was planning on hiring additional part-time police officers to augment patrol.
He also said that they have looked at where all 508 cameras are on campus and how and where they can improve those.
Susan Majocka, student conduct officer for Student Development and Engagement, said that being able to communicate with local agencies raises the awareness of people.
“If something happens by Hamot or Erie Insurance, it could potentially affect Gannon,” Majocka said.
“[These] relationships help us. They just heighten that awareness of everybody so that if someone sees something, they can say something and bring it to the attention of the police.”
Alex Bohman, a senior advertising communication major, said she is worried about her personal safety.
“I feel that there is still more that could be done for our protection,” Bohman said. “Issuing a warning does not prevent these crimes from happening.”
As of Tuesday, the suspect in these robberies was still at large.
If anybody has any knowledge of the individual thought to be involved in these robberies or if you see suspicious people or activity, report it immediately to Campus Police and Safety at 814-871-7690.