Stolen Lab Equipment Distributed on Campus

On Saturday, April 13, several students were offered small vials, containing what they were told was “pure medical grade cocaine.” The solution, which was stolen from a lab in Goodpaster Hall, contained very small amounts of cocaine suspended in liquid solvents.

The equipment was reportedly stolen around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10. On Saturday, after the individual had been reported to Public Safety, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department and Chemistry faculty were called to the scene to investigate. The individual had also allegedly stolen several scales and other lab supplies from labs in Goodpaster Hall, according to multiple sources familiar with the lab equipment.

“Our immediate goal was to make sure that nothing dangerous was out on campus,” Director of Public Safety Tressa Setlak said, “there was one rather dangerous substance that they were suspended in, we did locate that substance and it had not been distributed.” Setlak later confirmed that the “dangerous substance” that had been stolen but was not distributed was methanol, which can cause blindness or even death in small doses.

Multiple sources familiar with the case noted that the individual had been “bragging” about stealing the lab supplies that night, and was selling the vials out of a large ziplock bag for $30 a piece.

The College sent out an email at 2:54 p.m. on the following Sunday, stating that the individual had been removed from campus and that “any student who is concerned about a substance they have ingested should contact the Public Safety office immediately.” The email also stated that “The College has no reason to believe anything dangerous was distributed”, which raised concerns for students familiar with the solvents used in the burglarized labs. Students have mentioned that many cocaine standards used in the labs contain highly toxic chemicals such as methanol and acetonitrile, which could cause severe medical issues if they are ingested. However, Public Safety has since stated that no methanol was distributed. In addition, no students who ingested the solution contacted Public Safety, according to Setlak.

Since the incident, the College has confirmed that it is adjusting security procedures in labs. The chemistry department has limited key access to labs to only professors, and the College is looking into switching to Onecard access to labs rather than giving out keys. “Only those trained and permitted to use the lab would have card access and unlike keys, access cards ensure doors lock automatically when closed, and lost or stolen cards can be deactivated,” said Gretchen Phillips of the Office of Communication. Phillips also noted that the College is “also looking into possible video surveillance in hallways near the lab.”

In regards to students being offered strange substances, “if you don’t know what it is, don’t ingest it, don’t take it, don’t touch it, there’s so many dangerous things that you just don’t know what it could be,” said Setlak,  “the opioid epidemic has shone a light on fentanyl and carfentanil, and how dangerous they are. You just don’t know what you’re getting, and they are fatal if you get a hold of them.”

At the time of writing the case is still under active criminal investigation, so criminal information has not been fully released to the public. It is unclear if the student will be permitted back on campus, or if the College is seeking criminal charges. At the time of writing, no formal charges have been announced.

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