Univ. police still looking for assaulter

Megan Angelo

In the aftermath of the fall attacks on students, Public Safety has been stepping up measures to keep Villanovans safe. But as the investigation proceeds, some members of the University community have raised questions about the force’s actions.

After a pair of November incidents occurred in which two students were attacked, Public Safety issued an e-mail to all students informing them of the events. The e-mail included two possible descriptions of the perpetrator and urged students to “please stay aware of your surroundings when walking on campus.”

But Public Safety had not notified students about the Sept. 20 incident before this e-mail, in which a female student was grabbed from behind before struggling free from the perpetrator and escaping. Most students learned of this episode only after watching local news reports on the November attacks that mentioned the Sept. 20 attack as well.

“It was an isolated incident,” said Jeffrey Horton, director of Public Safety, explaining why students were not notified in September. “She [the victim] was very limited in any kind of description – those incidents are in our media log, but we didn’t send out a specific notice because it happened so quickly there was little description.”

Parents were not notified of the attacks by either Public Safety or the University.

“My mom found out from a friend,” freshman Vivian Parlamis said. “I wasn’t going to tell them because I didn’t want them to worry.”

Junior Jinny Jeong, who is from Queens, N.Y., said her parents found out from a news source – she isn’t sure which one.

“Yeah, they freaked out, but [attacks] are something parents always worry about,” she said. “They worry regardless of where you are.”

Concerned parents have sent Public Safety “a few calls and a couple e-mails,” according to Horton. “Most people will say, ‘These types of things, geez, they don’t happen at Villanova.’ I’ve been here a number of years and it hasn’t happened before, but it can happen, and it did happen.”

Horton maintained that none of the e-mails he has received have communicated anger at the office’s decision not to inform parents. But one father of a University female student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he did e-mail the office demanding to know why parents were not contacted. He said he has not received a response as of yet.

Since the November episodes, Public Safety has increased the number of night patrol officers. The office also performed a campus-wide evaluation of all lights to ensure that all areas would be as well-lit as possible.

Horton added that in addition to the call boxes scattered throughout campus, the silver intercom boxes outside each dorm and apartment building double as emergency phones. Each contains a button that puts a caller straight through to Public Safety dispatchers.

Public Safety has also increased the number of plainclothes officers patrolling the campus.

Horton says these officers have raised suspicion among people traveling across campus at night, and that Public Safety has received several calls to report them.

“That’s fine,” he said. “If people see something out of the ordinary, they should call. If people look like they don’t belong and are hanging out, don’t get yourself involved – call us.”

It wasn’t quite that simple for English department professor Dr. Karyn Hollis, who encountered a plainclothes officer while retrieving her laptop from the Saint Augustine Center on a Friday evening in November. To confirm that the man was a real member of the force, she tried calling Public Safety’s emergency and non-emergency lines from her office. “I couldn’t get through to anyone,” she said. Several minutes later she did come across a uniformed officer, who assured her that the person she saw was a Public Safety officer.

None of the officers, plainclothes or otherwise, are armed, but Horton said they are well-equipped to deal with encountering a violent trespasser.

“The people we have on surveillance are our best people – they’re going to get plenty of backup before they jump into something,” Horton said. “We don’t have weapons. Maybe in the future we will have to discuss that.”

In December officers took into custody a man lurking on South campus. Horton said the man was a “non-student” engaging in “raunchy” behavior.

The man who was apprehended is not a suspect in the investigation of the earlier attacks, Horton said, adding that the search for the culprit is progressing with the help of the Radnor police.

“We’ve been in communication with them,” he said. “They have individuals that they’re looking at and that investigation is proceeding.”

Both the Sept. 20 attack and one of the November incidents occurred on South campus, leading much of the campus concern to focus on that area, especially the path from Main to South known as “the rape trail.”

Parlamis, who lives on South campus, said her schedule usually doesn’t lead her down the trail, but she still wouldn’t feel threatened taking it. “It’s very well-lit, and there are always people nearby,” she said. “I don’t know why I would feel unsafe taking it.”

She added that she would feel more apprehensive about wandering through the other area in which an attack took place. “The area behind Mendel is always empty,” she said.

Overall, though, Parlamis said the attacks haven’t changed her perception of the campus or her daily behavior.

She avoids walking behind Mendel Hall – “Now, I go through the Grotto or the Quad, where there are more people” – but still occasionally walks alone.

“I only walk alone if I have no other option, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call an escort,” she said.

Jeong, who lives on West campus, said her opinions of the campus haven’t really changed over the past few months.

“Maybe it’s because I’m from New York City, but it seems like this campus is safe enough. Villanova is very good about accommodating students and making sure problems are confronted.”