posted on: Thursday March 23, 2017
by Meaghan Dodson ’17
If there is one (maybe hard to accept) fact about college campuses, it is that copious amounts of alcohol are consumed on a weekly basis. The festivities of St. Patrick’s Day are no exception, but this year, off-campus gatherings related to this Irish holiday took a turn for the worse.
Providence College Director of the Office of Safety and Security John Leyden stated, “I’ve worked several St. Patrick’s Days now, and very few have fallen on a Friday. It was busier than a typical year.”
Over the course of the afternoon, on Friday, March 17, the Providence Police Department (PPD) broke up several parties at the off-campus homes of PC students. The police arrested a total of seven PC students for underage drinking and/or open container violations.
“The College had suspended people for inappropriate behavior off campus and will continue to do so, but our main goal is education and being responsible community members and citizens and to keep people safe,” said Steven Sears, associate vice president of student affairs.
In addition to the PC arrests, a large non-PC party was broken up on Oakland Avenue, and two students from Johnson & Wales University were arrested for possession of open containers/alcohol.
Two other incidents involving PC students occurred the same day. On campus, a thrown bottle struck the vehicle of Catherine Kelleher, director of student health services, and resulted in a broken window. Leyden reports that this was an act of vandalism unrelated to the off-campus scene.
Then, at 12:28 a.m. on Saturday, March 18, a student was struck by a bottle outside a PC student’s house. The house was hosting a gathering of around a hundred students, and Leyden reports that people continued to be rowdy even while the injured student was being treated on-site. He adds that people in the house originally slammed the door and refused entry to the PPD.
The College issued a safety advisory email following this incident, describing the event as a felony assault. Then, early on Sunday monring, the College released another statement, this time coming in the form of a FriarALERT. It read: “Shooting at Pembroke Ave. at 3:18 a.m. One male non-PC student was shot. Suspect is a light skinned male wearing white sweatshirt. If seen call 911.”
According to Leyden, the PPD responded to the shooting—which has now been disclosed to have occurred at 66 Pembroke Avenue between Chad Brown Street and Smith Street—and observed what appeared to be between 200 and 300 people fleeing the scene. The apartment the police responded to belongs to PC students.
The victim had three gunshot wounds—a graze on his head and a shot to his left hip and right arm. The victim was promptly transported to Rhode Island Hospital and is currently in a stable condition.
Several students have expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which PC handled the incident, pointing out that, while the crime occurred at 3:18 a.m., the FriarALERT was not issued until 6:56 a.m.
Sean Richardson ’20 said, “I think there should be better communication between the police and PC. It would be nice to think that the police would notify the College immediately if there is a serious threat in the general vicinity.”
Leyden, however, reports that the College was not notified about the event until a couple hours after it occurred, and at first it did not realize that PC students were involved. “When we did find out, we sent out a FriarALERT and a Safety Advisory as soon as possible,” Leyden stated.
These alerts are in keeping with what is known as the Clery Act. According to this act, whenever the Office of Safety and Security receives a report of crime, a “Timely Warning assessment will occur.” If the crime is determined to pose “a serious or ongoing threat” to the College, Safety and Security will issue a warning via a Crime Alert. The Crime Alert must state (to the College’s best knowledge) the type, location, and time of the crime, as well as a physical description of the suspect(s) and any other pertinent information.
The College is required to issue a Crime Alert any time there is an on-campus incident. If the incident is off-campus, however, the decision to issue the Alert falls under the discretion of the College.
At 7:52 a.m., an hour after the FriarALERT was sent out and four and a half hours after the incident occurred, the College released a Safety Advisory email. It read: “A male non-PC student was shot at a large gathering on Pembroke Ave., occupied by PC students. Suspect was seen firing a gun from the back door of the apartment. The suspect fled on foot in an unknown direction.”
This advisory raised additional concern as some students felt that, as the home was occupied by PC students, this was a pertinent detail that should have been included in the initial FriarALERT.
In response to this concern, Leyden stated, “There’s only so many characters you can put in a FriarALERT, so the message must be brief and concise. When we sent the alert we knew we were going to follow it up with a more-detailed Safety Advisory.”
Stanley Vieira, director of citizenship and off-campus life, sent an additional email to off-campus students informing them that College representatives would be in the Aquinas Lounge at 8:30 a.m. for students who would like to talk. The email was sent at 7:47 a.m., a few minutes before the Safety Advisory was issued.
Vieira, Leyden, Sears, Fr. Peter Martyr Yungwirth, O.P., and several hall directors and Office of Residence Life staff members were available for students that Sunday morning.
When asked about the scheduling and timing of the meeting, Vieira stated, “The logic behind meeting at that time was for support.” Members of the College’s administration wanted to be available to students as early as possible, however Fr. Yungwirth confirmed that “zero” students actually attended the event.
This leads to questions about whether or not events such as this should be better organized in the future so that students are more likely to be in attendance.
“I don’t know the exact reason that time was picked as opposed to another time, but I do think that those involved in Student Affairs were trying to respond to student requests to be notified earlier about things like this than has been done in the past,” said Fr. Yungwirth.
“It was early, but so often the students have asked to be notified earlier about things like this, and that’s why I assume that time was chosen,” he continued.
In the days following the incident, Leyden reports that PC and the PPD have remained in communication, and that the investigation is ongoing. Leyden added that PC administration has also talked to residents of the home where the incident took place, stating that they have been offered resources and are “as okay as can be expected under the circumstances.”
When asked what can be done to prevent similar incidents, Leyden responded, “We have to try to prevent these types of serious assaults from happening, and in both cases they were connected to large gatherings that became out of control. I don’t have all the answers but that would be one part of the solution.”
This past Tuesday, meanwhile, Student Congress invited Leyden and Sears, along with Sgt. John Dunbar, one of the Office of Safety and Security’s supervisors, and Koren Kanadanian, director of emergency management, to attend its weekly meeting.
“We were getting a lot of student concerns about the College’s emergency response feedback—in particular, the discrepancy between the time of the incident and the time the FriarALERT was sent out,” stated Student Congress Executive President Andrew Konnerth ’17.
“I think we’re trying to balance where responsibility falls in these types of incidents, especially regarding students communicating to the school and the school communicating to the students,” he continued.
Many students were under the impression that the police immediately contacted the College about the incident but, as the PPD was delayed in relaying information, students were left wondering what the protocol would be if something like this ever happened again. Students voiced their opinion that, in a traumatic event such as this one, the College cannot rely on students as its sole means of communication.
Congress members also expressed concern that the FriarALERT did not state if the incident was an active event. Kanadanian, however, clarified that if it were an active event, the alert would explicitly say so.
“We talked about ways in which everyone could be preventative instead of reactionary, and what resources could be at the students’ disposal if an incident like this ever occurred again,” Konnerth concluded.
Looking towards the future and committed to keeping students safe, Leyden remarked, “Over the upcoming weeks we’re going to be meeting with the Off-Campus Coalition and the PPD. We want to collaborate and come up with some viable solutions to increase safety in the neighborhood.”