by Vera Armstead and Lauren Smith
On Tuesday Sept. 24, at approximately 8:00 a.m, there was a reported sighting of a gun by two witnesses near the bell tower on the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) campus. The Office of Communication sent out an email to all students, faculty and staff at 11:14 a.m detailing the incident. It claimed that “two students witness[ed] an individual with what appeared to be a silver colored pellet gun.”
The report that was broadcasted to the students is contrary to what one witness, who asked to be anonymous for safety concerns, claimed. “There is a lot of miscommunication,” the witness explained. “One thing that Public Safety said was that like, it was in his pocket. Which is not true. It was in his hand, clear as day, just like, out.” The witness made evident their certainty of what the suspect was holding. “I’ve gone shooting before. I know what a gun looks like.”
Even Nathan Maroney (‘20), who has revealed himself to be the suspect at the Student Government Association (SGA) meeting on the night of Tuesday Sept. 24, claims that the object the witnesses saw was a phone connected to a portable charger. “The portable charger itself kind of looks like the butt of a gun. And then the way [the phone] was attached, it’s kind of in that little L shape that a gun could have been.” He remembers taking his device out of his pocket, which adds validation to the witnesses’ claims: “I whipped out the phone, and I kinda remember staring out in the distance as I’m looking at the phone[…] And it kinda just looks like I’m lazily holding up a pistol.”
Maroney explains,“The second that my class is done, I’m out. I book it to my car, because I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna get shot.’ So I leave campus, I go to the nearby Panera.” He claims that the reason he returned to campus was “because for some reason I decided the possibility of being shot was like a lesser consequence than paying for dinner.” When he returned to campus, Public Safety officers searched his car and room for a gun. During the process, he stated that a Public Safety officer grabbed his phone and says “‘man this is kinda like what they described the gun as.’”
There is also a discrepancy between what Maroney’s actual appearance is, and what the Office of Communications stated in their email to the community: “The individual is described as a white male, around six feet tall, thin, with dark short hair and no facial hair.”
The witness disagrees with identification, saying that they told Public Safety officers that “he was white passing. That’s the only thing that I said of him being white. But I said that he looked mixed or something.”
In a follow up email, the Office of Communication claimed that “An extensive investigation by Public Safety confirms that the student does not have a gun of any type in his possession.”
In response to the events, Tuajuanda C. Jordan, Ph.D, president of SMCM, held a State of the College address. She talked about how the situation could have been handled better, allowing for questions and comments from students, faculty and parents at the end. She urged the SMCM community to reach out to her with their perspectives, saying, “I would like to hear your ideas and your thoughts about that day and how we can do better.”
SGA conducted a town hall meeting in order to address the events of Sept. 24. The SMCM community was free to ask questions to Dean of Students Leonard Brown, Director of Public Safety Tressa Setlak, and Captain of St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office David Yingling. To open up the meeting, SGA President Rebecca Malaga announced that “students deserve the answers and clarity that were not provided last week and most importantly to feel safe on campus again.” Malaga explained, “similarly, it is equally important that the administration and public safety hear our feedback so we can all work together to ensure St Mary’s is better prepared and equipped in the event that this ever happens again.”
At the town hall meeting, Dean Brown admitted to the slow response time that the SMCM administration provided. “The initial communication wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t timely, and didn’t provide the information that people were looking for.” He explained that SMCM has hired “[a] consultant to review [SMCM’s] protocols[…]so that we can ensure that if there is a future situation, that our response is timely. That our response meets your expectations and needs in terms of feeling safe on this campus.”
Brown also explained, “If there is a similar situation that we’ll send a message, a shelter in place message, so that people will know exactly what to do until we can figure out, along with the Sheriff’s Office, what is going on.” His statement is timely, seeing that the SMCM community received a message on Thursday, Oct. 3 from Public Safety that said there were “unconfirmed reports of gunshots behind Dorchester Hall,” and to “find shelter and secure in place.”
An hour later another email was sent informing students that the Sheriff’s Office had determined “everything is OK.” Dean Brown was available in the Glendening Annex after the incident to meet with students. The next day, a message from President Jordan was sent to the campus community confirming that “some of the text alerts were not received” which are sent by the Campus Shield app.
In the email, President Jordan listed resources for students to get support following the incident, naming the Wellness Center and the Student Affairs staff.
SGA President Malaga announced that students can become involved in promoting the safety of their campus as the SGA Public Safety Advisory committee is reinstated in the near future.