Campus spooked by false alarm

A Trenton teenager was arrested early Sunday evening in connection with a hoax 911 call to Campus Police reporting a shooting in Travers Hall that morning.

Michael Larkin, 19, was arrested by Campus Police and has been charged with False Public Alarm. He is being held in the Mercer County Corrections Center in Hopewell. Larkin’s bail is set at $25,000.

College President R. Barbara Gitenstein notified the campus community about the arrest via e-mail at 7:16 p.m.

Gitenstein said in the e-mail, “In the event that Larkin, who is known by police to have a gang affiliation, is able to post bail, he has been ordered to have no contact with the College.”

During a meeting with Travers Hall residents, Sgt. Michael Bell said that the campus community will be notified in the event that Larkin is released and that necessary security measures will be taken.

Patrolman Jim Lopez said that the state’s gang task force is “keeping (Campus Police) in the loop.”

According to Matt Golden, director of communications and media relations, Larkin has not posted bail as of press time.

The prosecutor’s office could not be reached for comment as of press time.

It was learned at Residence Education & Housing staff and general meetings that Larkin made three 911 calls from his personal cell phone and had a past romantic relationship with a female resident of the seventh floor of Travers Hall. Larkin was an uninvited guest to the campus and was not signed in as a guest by a resident. Campus Police did not comment on Larkin’s intent due to the ongoing investigation.

At 12:45 p.m. an e-mail was sent confirming that the 911 call was a hoax and a message appeared on the College’s main Web site.

According to Golden, Campus Police received a 911 call shortly before 6 a.m. Golden was informed at 6:25 a.m. and sent out an e-mail to the campus community at 6:38 a.m.

Another e-mail, sent at 7:43 a.m., confirmed that Campus Police were looking into the situation and urged residents to stay in their current locations. At 8:01 a.m., a third e-mail said the reported shooting took place at Travers Hall. A fourth e-mail, sent at 10:01 a.m., said Campus Police could not confirm if a shooting had occurred.

Another e-mail sent at 12:09 p.m. said law enforcement “thus far found no evidence to corroborate that a shooting took place. Investigation of the matter continues aggressively, and (the College) has implemented additional security measures, but the investigating agencies believe the original report may have been inaccurate.”

“I felt good about the overall handling of the situation, but as is true in every such circumstance, we have learned other ways to improve our processes,” Gitenstein said, via e-mail interview.

According to Golden, the College achieved its goal of informing people that a shooting was reported.

The College has not yet implemented a new campus notification system and is still working with NJEdge to select a system from a list of vendors, Golden said. The new notification system will send emergency alerts via cell phone text messaging.

“I will be glad when we have the electronic messaging system up and going just as another method of communicating with campus members,” Gitenstein said. “It should be fully operational during this semester.” She also commended residence hall staff, students and Campus Police in dealing with the situation.

The College’s campus was not on lockdown but Campus Police urged students to be vigilant and safe. Building Services employees were allowed inside Travers/Wolfe halls to work.

Campus Police officers were checking students’ bags at the Towers security desks as students entered and left the building on Sunday.

According to a student who did not want to be named, he was woken up around 6 a.m. by six law enforcement officers armed with shotguns.

According to Kristen Randolph, freshman psychology major who lives in Cromwell but was staying in a friend’s room in Travers, the police knocked on her door and warned her about the reported shooting while giving her safety instructions.

Campus Police also accounted for Travers Hall residents, asking them the whereabouts of their roommates if they were not present during Campus Police’s rounds.

Another resident of Travers Hall detailed Campus Police’s warning.

“They came pounding on my door at 7:45 a.m. and said there was a possible shooting,” Katie Ryan, freshman open options major in the school of Culture and Society, said

On Monday, Campus Police and College administrators held a forum with Travers Hall residents and answered questions about the incident. Jim Norfleet, vice president of Student Affairs; Magda Manetas, assistant vice president of Student Services; Bell; Lopez; Armond Harris and Wayne Evans, senior security officers; Melanie Hinds, residence director of the Towers; and Kawanna Leggett, assistance residence director of the Towers held the forum with Travers Hall residents.

Students were concerned about the security in the Towers and said Campus Police officers should still be stationed at the Travers Hall security desk. Students also said Campus Police officers should be roving residents’ floors and that hall security workers should check student identification cards along with room keys.

Campus Police officers and College administrators listened to students’ concerns and have considered further security implementations. They also urged students to be vigilant and stressed locking room doors to prevent unwanted visitors.

According to Campus Police officers, Lt. Jim Lopez, no relation to patrolman Lopez, left orders to make hourly checks around the floor on Monday night.

– Additional reporting by Kelly Duncan, Joseph Hannan, Kristen Lord and Allison Singer