Saturday incident leaves students startled, Public Safety and ASG respond

Around 7:30 p.m. last Saturday, Nov. 7, a student reported that an armed man in an SUV was waving his weapon around and pointing it up in the air. According to the report, the incident occurred around 2:00 p.m. near Limber Street and Jefferson Street, near Allegheny Commons. The SUV reportedly also had flags promoting incumbent United States President Donald Trump.

“When it was reported, we all gathered up, (and) started looking for the vehicle thinking that it had just happened, when in fact it had happened several hours earlier,” Director of Public Safety James Basinger said. “Nobody else reported that vehicle anywhere. Since then, we have received multiple reports with a different description, some people saying a white pickup truck.”

Basinger went on to say that the witness who originally reported the incident was adamant that it was an SUV, possibly a Toyota RAV4, but was certainly not a pickup truck.

Following the incident, multiple students took to social media to warn one another to stay indoors, saying that there was an armed man threatening students on campus. Many different accounts of the incident began to be posted on various social media sites, including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Some of those posts contained warnings for students to lock their doors and shelter in place. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Office of Public Safety released a message to the Allegheny community stating, “The social media message was not issued by the College.”

“Nobody else saw it, no one else reported it,” Basinger said. “I would think people on this campus would report that. So the decision was made not to send out the alert, but somebody sent out their own alert last night …  totally inaccurate statements that may have been just people embellishing to make folks react even more.”

Public Safety tracked all of the emails and social media posts from individual students back to the incident on Saturday and found that they were all referring to the same event, despite the inconsistencies in the story.

Basinger noted that they were still taking all information from people who witnessed the incident firsthand, as they are still investigating.

“Any tips that come in, we are following up on, but at this point it is not a danger for folks to go out and about on campus,” Basinger reported. “There are a lot of rumors (being spread) out there and we are spending a lot of time tracking them down to make sure that the campus is safe. If there is a truck out there, harassing our students or our faculty and staff, we want to find it and put an end to it, but we also do not want people to embellish.”

Regarding how Public Safety is moving forward to ensure students feel safe, Basinger explained that they are increasing patrols in the area in which it occurred, near Allegheny Commons, both in cars and on-foot. He also provided this as an explanation to multiple students who inquired about the extra amount of Public Safety officers present in the area, and assured that the officers are in response to the incident from Saturday and are an effort to make students feel safer.

“If you see a vehicle that looks suspicious, if you see one matching the descriptions of these vehicles — again, it is a white SUV with Trump flags on it — please call Public Safety,” Basinger said. “I would rather come out and check a vehicle and determine that they are not doing anything illegal than have my students be victimized or feel unsafe.” 

He went on to list ways to stay safe, such as walking with someone while wearing masks, not going into dark areas by oneself, and not being on your phone or wearing headphones while walking at night.

At Allegheny Student Government’s general assembly on Tuesday, Nov. 10, the incident was brought up by Director of Community Relations Elias Bullock-Moreno, ’23.

“I think that as community relations director, this presents a really specific set of challenges, because ultimately, my goal is to get our campus community and the Meadville community (closer) and to develop more sustainable relationships between us,” Bullock-Moreno said. “I think that what we can do is just try to make sure to convey to the campus that Meadville is still a safe place to go. The businesses are still welcoming, and we still have a lot of really great resources in the Meadville community that we should still be using. I think that, when we get back, it will be important to tell people that.”

Concerns were raised about how to respond to student questions about how ASG could acknowledge students’ concern about the incident without spreading fear, to which Vice-President of the Class of 2023 Lucas Biniewski, ’23, responded by saying that they should “let them know that the College is still investigating.”

“The College launched an investigation … we do not want to be spreading construed information,” Biniewski said.

The Office of Public Safety can be reached 24/7 at 814-332-3357. If a student is feeling unsafe on campus, they are encouraged to call that number, or call 911 in case of an emergency.