I am writing this in hopes that my personal story will help shed light on the tragedy and what students like myself might have experienced.
My name is Therese Pitman. I am a student-athlete here at Binghamton University and a resident of Windham Hall of Mountainview College. I am writing to you to address the situation that occurred Sunday night, April 15, 2018. I know many people are upset. I know the situation was unpredictable. I understand these events cannot be prevented. However, let me share with you what I experienced to help you realize why this particular event could have been different.
It was Sunday night and I was in Glenn G. Bartle Library working on an assignment when I started to receive texts from my friends who live in other buildings on campus asking: “Are you OK?” “What is going on?” How was it that I did not know what my friends were talking about? I responded quickly with, “Yes, I am OK. Why?” The responses I received were horrifying: “There was a stabbing in your building.” At about 11:12 p.m. my suitemate called me in hysterics, saying, “Someone was stabbed in our building, we locked our door, please do not come up here.” This was all while they were watching out my bedroom window as Harpur’s Ferry students performed CPR on a bloody, unconscious body. At 11:14 p.m., an alert was sent out — a vague alert: “Suspect fled on foot … avoid the area.” I checked my email because of my suitemate’s call; I was expecting to see an alert. Were my peers in the library anticipating an email like this? Probably not.
I am alone in the library. There is a suspect on the loose. I am scared. I cannot go back to my room. “What do I do?!,” crosses my mind over and over again. The suspect could be here in the library. He could be outside. The PA system comes on in the library and says something like, “There has been a stabbing in Windham Hall; the suspect fled on foot. If you leave the library, be safe.” I went into panic mode. I was sweating profusely. A hundred thoughts crossed my mind but the first and most important was, “The library is not on lockdown? Why is the library not on lockdown? Why are people able to walk into the library right now? Why are people leaving the library?” The library is typically a quiet place; it was not quiet this night.
I would like to make it known at this point in the story that I am not from a large city, so this type of occurrence is something I am not used to. I was previously a part of my high school’s safety team, where we had mandatory safety drills for this kind of event quite often, and we had extensive plans in place. I realize that the best-laid plans do not always work in these situations, but there seemed to be no plans on Sunday night. Right then, sitting there as a sophomore in college in Bartle Library, I did not know what to do. I didn’t know who to call or where to go. I felt I was in extreme danger. I received a text: “I heard that the suspect is near or in Bartle to try to fit in.” Was this statement true? I will never know the answer to that, but I thought about all my escape routes. Get in the elevator and slam the STOP button. No one could touch me in there. Or, I could text my friend who lives off campus and ask if she could come pick me up. I texted her to ask and mentioned, “If you can even get on campus.” Ten minutes go by and I am thinking about my escape from the library to my friend’s car. The suspect could be out there. I put my laptop in my backpack, and I put my backpack on backward to cover my chest, so at least if I am attacked, something is slightly protecting my heart. “I’m here,” says the text from my off-campus friend.
“GO!” I am sprinting through the library the fastest I think I have ever run in my life. I jump in her car … we escape. I am alive. I am upset. I am rattled. That night, off campus, I worry. I worry about my friends who have witnessed the death, I worry about my friends who live on campus and need to leave their dorms to eat. I do not sleep. I cannot sleep.
April 16, my birthday, I am upset about the situation. I am disappointed at how it was handled. As a leader on this campus — part of the Explore, Engage and B You Leadership Institute — I am saddened that during a time of hysterics, we, as a university, did not have a plan. Or did not have a proper plan. These are questions that I am concerned about the most:
1. Why did this event occur and almost an hour later we got notified via email? Rumors spread well before we were notified.
2. Why were Windham Hall and Bartle Library not on lockdown? How did authorities know that the suspect had not harmed anyone else in our building?
3. Why was there no announcement in Windham Hall telling students to lock their doors? My suitemates took it upon themselves to find each other in the building and lock their doors.
4. Why were the students of Windham Hall not checked on, individually or suite by suite, at some point to see if everyone in the building was unharmed?
5. Why were people allowed on and off of campus? The suspect’s getaway car could have come and picked him up.
6. What if I didn’t have a friend who lived off campus?
7. Why on earth was the suspect apprehended in his dorm room? If authorities knew who they were looking for, why was no one waiting to apprehend him as he re-entered his dorm?
To be of help, I point out solutions:
1. As soon as the event occurred, there should have been an email and a text sent out immediately to every student on and off campus. The message should be direct. Stating where to avoid and how one can be relatively safe.
2. As soon as an event like this occurs, the building should be on lockdown and BU IDs should be deactivated. We are trying to avoid the suspect getting back into this building. The library should have been locked down. The library is open 24/7 and anyone can walk into and out of it. This would have prevented the suspect from entering a place that he knew was populated. It would also allow the many students and staff inside to be safe.
3. Everyone in Windham Hall should have been told via PA system, text or email to get in their rooms and lock their doors immediately.
4. There is no doubt everyone in Windham Hall was affected in some way because of this tragedy. Resident assistants or other trained professionals should be taught to check each room as soon as an event like this occurs to be sure that no one else was hurt. If that is not realistic, then the following day, when the suspect was caught, each resident’s room should have been checked on to be sure everyone was mentally and physically all right.
5. When an event like this one occurs, no one should be able to drive on or off of campus. Police should be monitoring entrances and exits. This will stop the suspect from getting away.
6. There should be an alternative safe place for students who live in buildings affected to go if they cannot return to the place where they can be locked safely in their own room to sleep.
7. There should police monitoring the building entrance and the suspects dorm room until he is found.
I am happy to be part of the BU community. I am pleased with all the support and counseling that has been freely available. However, my peers and I did not feel safe during the tragic event on Sunday night. I would like for these concerns to be taken seriously so that next time an event like this happens, we can all feel safer. I would love to help make this university a better place for everyone. Life is fragile.
Thank you for reading.
Therese M. Pitman is a sophomore majoring in English.