Days after homicide students left wondering about W&J security
In the wake of the tragic death of Washington & Jefferson College football player Tim McNerney in what has been ruled a homicide, some students and parents are questioning the safety of the campus and surrounding area and whether the off-campus assault that apparently led to his death was an isolated incident.
McNerney, 21, of Butler, was walking back to campus with a friend early Thursday morning from a South Main Street bar when he was allegedly assaulted and robbed by a group of men at the corner of College and East Maiden streets in Washington. He died of a head injury.
Some students said they had been victims of assault or had heard of students being “jumped.”
Earl Hord, 18, a sophomore biology student from the Hill District in Pittsburgh, said he was the victim of an assault last winter.
“I was coming back from a party and a truck pulled up,” Hord said. “Two guys got out and almost choked me to death. My friend luckily pulled them off, and we fought them off.”
Hord said he had no previous interaction with the men that jumped him and he didn’t know them. He reported the incident to his dormitory resident adviser, the director of resident life, James Amato, and to campus security. He did not know whether Washington police were notified.
Hannah Shaner, 21, a senior studying psychology and business, is captain of the women’s soccer team, president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and a member of a sorority.
“I love W&J and never dreamed of going anywhere else,” Shaner said. “But it makes me angry that things could not have been done before. It’s sad that it took a tragedy for people to look into this.”
Shaner said her student group has been trying to increase security in the area around campus for years.
“During my freshman year, several soccer players were mugged,” Shaner said. “Last year at a bar, a girl pulled another girl’s hair and hit her in the face. ... Some of my friends are so paranoid, they won’t sleep alone in their rooms.”
Beth Kelly of Boston has a daughter who is a senior at W&J. She said the college had been warned that the streets on and near campus were unsafe.
“Students have been complaining about this for a long time,” Kelly said. “Nothing has been done about it.”
Kelly said students have taken the matter to campus officials in the past.
“I don’t think they saw it as the threat that it was,” Kelly said.
W&J Director of Communications Karen Oosterhous said in an email that “student safety is our first priority and a regular topic of conversation between parents, students and staff.”
She said the Office of Protection Services recently added a police officer with more than 20 years of experience who is capable of making arrests. Campus security officers patrol the campus around-the-clock and monitor security cameras. Every year, lights have been added, and there are also blue-light emergency phones throughout campus that students can simply “knock” and security is called.
In addition, security officers provide escorts on and off-campus whenever requested, and the number of officers on the security force has been increased. Security also works closely with Washington police, she said.
Since McNerney’s death, campus officials are sending emails and holding meetings to make students more aware of safety measures, such as traveling in a group. Campus security also has been increased and additional lighting is being added in some areas, she said.
Washington police Sgt. Chris Luppino said if W&J students are experiencing an increase in off-campus crime, they are not notifying city police.
“Every student we’ve interviewed (since Thursday) is not aware of any problem,” Luppino said.
City police Lt. Dan Stanek said the last assault the police department investigated involving a W&J student occurred in April, and it was not a random crime.
“I’m just saying what everybody else is thinking,” Shaner said. “I just don’t want to see other friends end up the same way.”
McNerney’s death has been a wake-up call for some students.
“I’ve never felt unsafe on campus before,” said Joe Guarinoni, 21, a senior studying chemistry. “This is the first time. I never expected anything like it. I felt really safe. The fact that it happened is a big reality check.”
Like others, he said he’s heard about students being assaulted on their way back to campus from downtown bars.
“I heard about it last year and the year before. There’s been at least two times since I’ve been here,” he said.
Carley Snoznik, 20, a senior studying biology, said she is aware that parts of Washington aren’t the safest.
“I know where to go and where not to go,” she said. “But some people who don’t know might wander into places that aren’t safe.”
Snoznik said she doesn’t venture off-campus often. “I walk to the main streets sometimes, but only during the day,” she said.
Miranda Gray, 20, a Trinity High School graduate and a junior studying acting and psychology, also was surprised.
“I never thought this would happen in a small town like Washington,” she said. “It makes me feel like I should always have someone with me at night.”
Staff writer Scott Beveridge contributed to this report.