By Cecelia Marquez and Scott Zimmerman
Four St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) students reportedly entered a suite in the Waring Commons residential area on the afternoon of Feb. 9 and committed an armed robbery. The students reportedly robbed another SMCM student; the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office classifed the robbery as a theft between $100 and $1,500.
SMCM’s Public Safety (P.S.) sent out a notice to students, faculty and staff on Feb. 13, stating that the “Office of Public Safety received a report of a hand gun [sic] on campus. After an initial investigation, it was determined that there was no immediate threat to the campus community.”
As of Feb. 18, P.S. had not yet issued an official statement informing the community of the robbery. The email sent to the community mentioned the handgun and noted that “the students that [sic] are suspected perpetrators were identified, placed in police custody and have been suspended pending further investigation.” This language suggests, but does not state, that the alleged robberies were associated to the handgun, showing that P.S. has yet to come to an official conclusion about weapons involved in the event.
On Feb. 13 the four suspects, Marquis Xavier Bullett, Kevin Louis Makle, Judge Clifford Payne and Kyndle Joshua Terrell-Jones, were located on campus by St. Mary’s County deputies and were arrested, according to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the State of Maryland case search, Bullett is charged with two felonies, armed robbery and robbery, and two misdemeanors, second degree assault and theft. Makle, Payne and Terrell-Jones were charged with the same two felonies and misdemeanors as well as a firearm use charge.
A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up for Payne. The webpage says that Payne “was arrested [at SMCM] for an incident he was not involved with. There is no evidence to indicate that he was involved.” This fundraiser appears to have been set up by a family member of Payne’s. It states that Payne “is being profiled as a young black male for something he has not done.”
The Point News (TPN) is unaware of any similar campaigns taking place for Bullet, Makle or Terrell-Jones.
According to the SMCM Athletics website, three of the four suspects were members of the men’s basketball team. Head coach Christopher Harney, ‘97, did not respond to TPN request for comment.
According to SMCM students present at the time, at least one student was arrested in an academic building during class. Beatrice Burroughs,‘19, said in an email to TPN that on Feb. 13 she and other students were waiting for class when “the police and [Public Safety] came to the classroom door right next to where we were sitting … They said they had a warrant for his arrest.” Burroughs added that the officers “handcuffed him” and left. “We were just kind of shocked,” she said.
Students on campus expressed concern over the incident. “Me and my friend Shane Brogan [‘19] saw two [of the alleged perpetrators] around 3 p.m.,” Patrick O’Leary, ‘19, told TPN. O’Leary and Brogan say that their on-campus residence is in the immediate vicinity of the reported crime. O’Leary said, “it’s crazy that they were right there, next to us.”
“There were three of us here, five feet away from the robbery, and we heard nothing that went on,” said Adam Scrivener, ‘19, who lives in the same residence as Brogan and O’Leary.
Scrivener says that the incident has made them more weary of crime and danger on campus. “We all agreed to start locking our common room door.”
Public Safety was not made aware of the incident until Sunday, Feb. 12, when they received notification from the County Sheriff’s Office, according to Director of Public Safety Tressa Setlak. “It was not reported to us [by any students],” stated Setlak.
She commented, “I wish more students would be more forthcoming more quickly so we could act faster.” Setlak stated that students can submit reports anonymously through 911Shield, the app that the college has been trying to implement as a main source for safety-related communications.
At this time, 911Shield is not setup to disseminate mass communications, but Setlak reports that it will “soon be what we use to … do our mass communication.”
In addition to the legal consequences being decided in the justice system, if these students return to campus they may face further repercussions. Their actions, if found true, violate the SMCM Residence Life Office policy against “firearms or weapons of any kind” and many articles of the Code of Student Conduct.
The College’s investigation into the alleged robbery is still ongoing. If anyone has information, Setlak encourages anyone with information to come forward. “Any information we get can help,” she said.
Students have expressed discontent with the comments section on local news sites reporting te alleged robbery. “I was shocked to hear about the incident but more shocked when reading the comments on the news,” Caitlin Henry, ‘19, told TPN in an email, “this revealed so many racist perspectives in the community.”
This incident has sparked conversation about guns on campus. A bill titled the Gun-Free Higher Education Zones Act passed the Maryland State House of Delegates in 2017 according to The Diamondback, University of Maryland’s student newspaper. The legislation currently in debate in the Maryland State Senate would “prohibit the carrying or possession of specified firearms on the property of public institutions of higher education.”
Brogan, on the other hand, expressed concern about how P.S. would have responded if the gun were used. In the event of a shooting Brogan said, “we’d have to wait 20 minutes for actual cops with weapons” to arrive and subdue the perpetrator.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the robbery happened “at gunpoint.” The County Sheriff’s office classified this incident as an “armed robbery.” The Southern Maryland News Network used the phrase “at gun point” but that has not been verified.