On Oct. 31, many students were shocked to receive an alert from Penn State for a dangerous person in the area, stating “Seek shelter. Secure doors. Be silent. Authorities responding.” The content of the alert sent many students into a panic, especially due to the lack of context regarding the situation at hand. Aside from two follow up alerts informing the Penn State community that the armed robbery suspect was still at large, and an eventual “all clear,” very little information was provided directly from the university. Many people resorted to listening to a live audio stream from local authorities, but still questioned what was actually going on.
Stores, coffee shops, and restaurants locked their doors, holding many customers inside until an all clear was issued. The all clear was not sent out to students for over two hours following the initial alert, causing many students and community members to hide out in locations downtown, with little knowledge on the status of dangerous person. During this time, information was circulating about the whereabouts of the dangerous individual.
“My friend and I were at west campus Starbucks which was near the location of the armed robbery,” says Molly Kraunelis, third year student. “We both were scared since we were so close and confused because there were no updates regarding the status of the robbery. We did not know when or if it was safe to leave.”
Even once the all clear was issued, many students felt uncomfortable with the status of the situation, as the all clear message stated “No evidence the suspect is still in the area.” As of Nov. 2, it was released that the suspect was identified, but no information was given about his whereabouts.
“I was scared and didn’t appreciate how we were told that it was ‘all clear’ when the person was not caught yet,” says Lauren Mazzei, third year student.
Under the law, Penn State is required to release information when something like this happens so close to campus. Despite them following this protocol, the consensus amongst students indicates that more communication during this incident would have been beneficial, especially since false information was being spread, creating more chaos.
“To me it felt like they were maybe trying to avoid panic by not giving us many details but ended up making it so much worse,” says Mary Fick, second year student. “Everyone knows that State College is a little safe bubble and things like robberies don’t really happen here so when they do it’s a big deal and people don’t know how to react. Everyone kind of just freaked out and got really paranoid and panicked which I think could’ve really been avoided if they just gave us more details on what was happening, because instead people listened to the police scanner and spread details that weren’t really true.”
Social Media Response
Social media posts on accounts such as @PSUBarstool mentioned the handling of this situation by the university and local authorities. Comments made by students and followers of the account criticized the lack of information and how the situation was handled.
Incidents like this rarely happen here at State College, but based on reactions, Penn Stater’s feel they should be handled differently by the university and local authorities in order for students to feel safe.