NEWS

  /  

February 1, 2005

Pierce Hall burglarized over weekend, laptops, cash taken

Shortly after 3 a.m. on Saturday, two unknown men entered Pierce Tower, robbing several students' rooms before fleeing. The men seemed to be after cash and credit cards, and attempted unsuccessfully to steal several laptop computers.

Building staff believe the men gained access to the building by "tailgating"¬ówaiting for a group of residents to enter and slipping in behind them. "They got through two sets of locked doors. They had to have come in with someone with someone who lives here," said Building Manager Octavia Jemison. Though a clerk is on duty at Pierce's front desk 24 hours a day to check the IDs of everyone entering, Jemison suggested that the men may have entered the building while the clerk on duty was in the restroom.

Once inside the building, the men walked around residential floors, opening doors to students' rooms. According to first-year in the College Jessica Wright, if the men found people awake in the rooms, they claimed to be lost and left quickly. "Everyone thought they were drunken friends of friends," said Marie McLetchie, also a first-year in the College, who had credit cards and cash stolen from her room.

Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of students and director of housing, emphasized that the incident was not a "break-in." "None of the security doors were propped or unlocked, and the student room doors and locks were not damaged or broken in any way," Callow-Wright said. "I believe that the student rooms which were robbed were unlocked," she added.

Rudy Nimocks said the UCPD has not yet confirmed a description of the two thieves, and that the UCPD still needs to interview more people. He does not have a ballpark figure of how much was stolen. Nimocks said they could not determine if the offenders were University students or not, though he suspected they were not.

Students reported the men when the thefts started getting discovered. Keith Crum, a resident of Tufts house and second-year in the College, first realized around 3:15 a.m. that money had been taken from his wallet when he found his personal items in disarray. Crum saw two unfamiliar men in the hallway and asked them who they were visiting. When the men responded with a fictitious name, Crum went to the front desk to report them.

One girl confronted the men when she saw them carrying what she recognized as her own backpack, an onlooker said. According to the onlooker, a friend of the victim, after some verbal resistance the men relinquished the backpack, which was found to contain the student's laptop computer and cellular phone, as well as the computer of a fellow housemate. While the students were speaking to the clerk on duty, the rear door alarm went off, drawing response from the UCPD.

Other students did not realize what had happened until later that morning. Amanda Aisen, a first-year in the College, woke up Saturday morning to find her purse overturned and her wallet empty. "Losing the money is frustrating," Aisen said. "But it really scares me that someone came into the building and then came into my room while I was sleeping."

Ken Bigger of Shorey house was the Resident Head on duty the evening of the incident. He said that the building staff has been working closely with the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing (OUSH) and the UCPD to come up with a cohesive building response.

"Establishing a sense of security is foundational to everything we do here," Bigger said. Several houses in Pierce have had special meetings to address the situation directly with students. At a meeting on Sunday night, Bigger told residents to be more aware of potential tailgaters as students enter the building. He reminded students that if they see someone unfamiliar who does not have an obvious host, they should ask the stranger to identify himself or herself. If suspicious, students should report the intruders to their Resident Head, Assistant Resident Head, or front desk clerk immediately, Bigger added.

"Now we know we can take more initiative," McLetchie said. "From now on, I will."

University administrators and housing staff have not spoken of any plans to formally change security policies at Pierce. "As far as we can tell, nothing procedural went wrong," Bigger said.

Several students, however, have brought up the idea of installing a security camera at the front desk to monitor everyone who enters the building. Students said that security at the front desk has not tightened noticeably.