U defends delay in abduction warning

University News Service director Amy Phenix said there was no threat to students after a gunman abducted a woman near Territorial Hall.

Britt Johnsen

As police continue to investigate Wednesday morning’s abduction and sexual assault of a University student, students and area residents question why University officials did not notify the campus community sooner than they did.

University police said a female student was taken at gunpoint from outside Territorial Hall at approximately 7:45 a.m. Wednesday to an off-campus location. She was sexually assaulted and returned to the University area later that day.

The University e-mailed superblock residents early Thursday afternoon notifying them of the assault. Another e-mail was sent later Thursday afternoon to parents. A group e-mail went out to the rest of the University community Thursday night.

Greg Hestness, assistant vice president for public safety, said the University notified the campus as quickly as possible.

“It was prompt getting out in e-mail fashion,” Hestness said.

Sexual violence counselors said the public should be alerted quickly about crimes such as sexual assault to prevent future crimes.

“Police should have alerted students (sooner),” said Carol Arthur, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Project. “It is such a violation and is so scary. (The offender is) potentially still out there and may strike again.”

Angela Evjen, crisis services coordinator for the Sexual Violence Center, agreed.

“It seems that people should have been notified earlier,” Evjen said. “If no one knows, he might do it again. The community needs to know as soon as possible.”

Amy Phenix, director of University News Service, said the University was unable to send e-mails until the police report was finished Thursday morning. Campus-wide e-mails are usually scheduled for late-night delivery to avoid clogging the system, Phenix said, adding that there was not a threat to the safety of students and residents.

“There is crime that happens every day, and people don’t get e-mails every day,” Phenix said.

Some students, however, were unhappy with the length of time between the incident and the e-mail notifications.

“I have a lot of girl friends – some who walk alone at night – and it’s really scary,” junior Bryan Mulleady said. “It’s ridiculous they didn’t tell anyone right away.”

Meanwhile, some students still grappled with the news of the incident.

“It really hasn’t hit me,” first-year student Breanna Nayes said. “It seems like it could happen in the city but not in front of your dorm.”

Other students said the abduction should heighten awareness, but some said it is not uncommon.

“If I let every single abduction get to me, I wouldn’t go anywhere ever,” student Erin Haapala said. “I’m surprised more stuff doesn’t happen.”

Student Katy Lehmann agreed.

“It’s definitely not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last,” Lehmann said. “Students need to be smart about it.”

Part of “being smart,” students and officials said, is being aware of the resources the University has to provide safety.

“I think the ‘U’ has a lot of good precautions,” student Kelly Burns said. “They do as much as they can.”

Students can call an escort service to have security workers walk them home, within a mile of campus.

There are also about 500 surveillance cameras on campus, Hestness said.

Hestness said students must use good judgment to stay safe, including locking doors, not traveling alone, being aware of surroundings and blue-light phones, which are located throughout campus and connect directly to University police.