WEB EXCLUSIVE: Student attacked near campus; university responds

A Gannon University student was attacked and robbed between Chestnut and Front streets Monday morning, suffering minor injuries.

The incident occurred when a 5-foot-11, black male suspect accosted a student and demanded his cell phone and wallet. After relinquishing both, the suspect cut the student on the stomach, left hand, and neck. The lacerations weren’t serious and not considered life threatening.

“Last time we heard, he’s doing OK,” said Director of Police and Safety James Waldon. “OK as you can be, after going through something like that.”

Although the 3 a.m. emergency message that students found in their email startled some, senior Anthony Austin, who has lived on Front Street for two years, wasn’t one of them.

“I wasn’t really surprised,” said Austin, an engineering major.  “Once you go down the street, it starts to get kind of dicey. There are a lot of people out that way that wander around looking like they’re up to no good.”

The suspect, who was described as wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, white shoes and blue jeans, has yet to be apprehended. According to Waldon, Gannon Police and Safety are in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the matter.

The university learned of the incident after the student called the on-duty officer for an escort to Hamot Hospital for medical attention.

“The first thing I knew is that we had to send something to the students,” Waldon said. “We told them everything we knew at the time because the safety of the students is paramount.”

Austin said that although the email was an appreciated show of concern by Gannon, it was something that had to be done.

“They needed to let students know what happened,” he said. “They needed to. If not, things could’ve been worse.”

However, things did appear to take a turn for the worse.

Roughly 12 hours after the attack, Gannon Police and Safety responded to a report of shots fired near the Student Services Building and placed the building on lockdown. However, the report turned out to be unfounded and an email alert later clarified that there were no shots fired in the area.

In a campus-wide email Tuesday, Karla Wludyga, director of public relations and communications and special assistant to the president, said that the campus community has been receiving email alerts about the recent reports of violence because the university’s eAlert system, which sends text messages to the Gannon community during the most serious of emergencies, has not been functioning properly.

The reason for this temporary outage was a malfunction with the vendor, MIS Sciences of California, Wludyga said, and the company is working on upgrades to the system but inadvertently compromised the eAlert text messaging system in the process.

She added that two workers with the company have lost their jobs because of this lapse.

But the eAlert system has since been restored and will be undergoing tests Tuesday afternoon, she said.

The recent incidents forced students to take on roles as vigilantes around campus, said Landis Erwin, president of the Student Government Association.

“People are worried about what’s going on,” she said. “They’re annoyed because a lot has happened in the last few days. They’re worried that it’ll keep happening over and over again.”

However, Waldon said that the increased alertness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  He said that all students should posses some sort of general awareness when they’re walking around campus.

“Don’t walk alone in any deserted places, and if you see something suspicious – call us,” he said. “We’ll come and check it out. I encourage any student to use G.U.E.S.T. services.”

Erwin said she isn’t viewing the attack as just an isolated incident – she’s taking heed of Waldon’s advice.

“I will never walk alone at night – ever,” Erwin said. “But if others do, just keep alert at all times – no iPods or cell phones.”

Even with the crime happening mere blocks from his apartment, Austin said that he’ll be hard pressed to change any of his normal day-to-day activities.

“Its unsettling, but it won’t affect me much,” he said. “I’m usually not wandering around that area at two o’clock. If I am, though, I’ll be in a group and stick to well-lit places.”

Despite giving Gannon a thumbs-up on how it handled the situation, Austin thinks that the university can do more to help students avoid dangerous situations or know what to do if they find themselves in one.

“If they’re driving around late at night and see someone walking alone, they should stop and offer them a ride,” Austin said. “That’s something I heard all about as a freshman but I’ve never actually seen.”

While Waldon said expects no sweeping reforms, he said the campus police have been providing escorts and have sponsored self-defense programs this semester and have more planned for the future.

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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