SEPTA Armed Robbery Sends University Community into Shelter in Place Lockdown

Cate McCusker, Senior Editor

“This is a message from Nova Alert,” the ominous recorded message rang on Tuesday night. “Shelter in place. Radnor Police have received a report of a robbery with a firearm on the R100 Commuter Train.”

At 11:15 p.m., on Valentine’s Day, the Villanova community was notified of an attempted robbery that occurred on the train that runs between South Campus and the Commons. According to Nova Alert, the suspect produced a gun from his backpack and attempted to rob the train conductor before fleeing on foot near the Commons and over the pedestrian bridge.

“At approximately 20:24 hours, Radnor Police were notified via radio,” Christopher Flanagan, Superintendent of Radnor Police, said. “Radnor police, who happened to have multiple officers at the Villanova basketball game, converged on the station and learned that a subject allegedly pulled a handgun, kicked out a window and a disturbance occurred on the train.”

According to the University, Villanova was notified by Radnor Police about the incident at 10:40 p.m., and they aided in the search.

“Officers set up a perimeter assisted by Haverford, Lower Merion [and] Villanova, looking for the subject,” Flanagan said. “A search of the area was conducted and it was believed that the subject had gotten through the perimeter prior to it being established….once we released the scene at midnight, we believed that the offender had left the area and there was no danger to the community.”

Flanagan explained that Radnor Police would be adding patrols in the areas of train stations, and he urged students to reach out if they had any concerns.

“You can always come and talk to us if you have concerns in the community, so always reach out,” he said. “Radnor police are always there and we’re happy to help anybody, including students, navigate a problem before it becomes an issue. “

Although the scene was released after midnight, the Villanova community did not receive any additional updates until seven hours after the original alert.

“Shelter in place lifted,” the Nova Alert read on Wednesday morning  at 6:15 a.m. “Classes and other University business will take place as scheduled today. As an update, police searched the area on and around campus throughout the night but did not locate the suspect. We therefore do not believe that he is still in the area.”

The Villanovan was able to speak to a few students who shared their experience that evening.

Freshmen Maggie Wilson and Emily Mainwald were on their way to the library from South Campus at around 10:30 p.m. when they saw a large police presence.

“We went up the stairs [to the bridge], and when we were right above the train tracks we saw police cars coming down behind Commons,” Wilson said. “They got out of their cars with flashlights, and they were looking underneath cars and in bushes.”

At this point, Wilson and Mainwald had no information on the incident, so they continued on their way to the library. 

“When we got to the library, everyone knew something was going on, but they didn’t know what,” Mainwald said. “Then people got the text and everyone’s like, oh my goodness, like check your phone.”

They explained that they felt safe since the doors to the library were locked, and they saw Public Safety officers walking throughout the library.

“A little bit after the alert came out, two police officers came upstairs, and they went in opposite directions,” Mainwald said. “They were just walking around… and they were checking that the doors were locked.”

Wilson and Mainwald explained that their friends saw vans and public safety vehicles escorting students home around 12:30 a.m. Then, at around 12:50 a.m., a library employee approached the pair and said that they were all clear, so Wilson and Mainwald walked home from the library to South Campus.

Wilson and Mainwald commented that they were confused about the timing of the evening and the lack of information communicated.

“We got the shelter in place [notification at 11:15 p.m.], but my video was taken at 10:29 [p.m.],” Wilson said. “They knew what had gone wrong. So like, what were they doing?”

“I know people were wishing that there was an update, even though [the shelter-in-place] wasn’t lifted,” explained Mainwald. “Maybe at like 12:30 a.m., 12:45 a.m. or 1 a.m., because it was kind of late, and people were trying to plan what they were going to do.”

Sophomores Kirsten Yager and Liz Miller were in the Alumni gym at a club sports practice when they got the Nova Alert.

“We were like, okay, let’s close the door, and then we realized the door to the Alumni gym does not lock,” Yager said.

Yager, Miller and a few other members of the club decided that hiding in the hallway was the best spot they could find. They called Public Safety.

“They said, ‘Stay where you are, don’t leave, we’re working on it,’” Yager said. “‘We have officers out patrolling, and I remember you.’”

For the next hour or so, the women continued to call Public Safety to ask for a walk back to their dorms because they did not feel safe, but Public Safety did not escort them back.

“We were like, ‘Hey we had heard that people are getting shuttled from the library back to wherever they need to be,’” Miller said, hoping to be able to get on a shuttle, as well. “But the guy was just like, ‘You’re on a list. We know you’re there. You’re on a list.’”

However, the women never made it off that list. At around 1:15 a.m., their friend, sophomore Brandon Nesmith, came to walk them back to their dorms. 

“We were like sitting ducks,” Yager said. “We could not lock ourselves off. That’s what really bothers me, that we didn’t feel like a concern for them.”

In the future, Yager and Miller believe that Villanova should make sure all doors can be locked, and that there are more call boxes available for students who need help. 

“We’re an open campus,” Yager said. “There needs to be locks on all the buildings…there are students in these areas late at night, and that could’ve easily taken a wrong turn.”

All four of the students spoken to also commented on how there are only a few call boxes on campus.

When asked to speak on the lack of communication, Villanova Chief of Police David Tedjeske issued a statement.

“When the University sends a Nova Alert for an incident like this, we are required by the Clery Act to use the same method to communicate the all-clear,” Tedjeske said. “First, we were not comfortable doing this in the middle of the night, given that the individual was still at-large. Second, since there was nothing new to report and no new information to suggest it was all-clear, it did not seem warranted to send a Nova Alert blast text message/phone call to 14,000 people at 3 a.m. Instead, we sent the Nova Alert at 6:15 a.m., notifying our community that the shelter in place was lifted and that classes and other University business would take place as scheduled.”

On Thursday evening, Tedjeske alerted students that the Radnor Police Department is still searching for Mr. Ishmael Isaac Marshall, 28, of Philadelphia, PA in connection with the incident.