Michael Larkin, the 19-year-old Trenton teenager who was charged with false public alarm for his alleged involvement in the Oct. 7 shooting hoax at the College, was ordered on Friday to remain in the Mercer County Corrections Center in Hopewell Township in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Meanwhile, Larkin’s alleged ties to the Bloods street gang were confirmed by Detective Frank Clayton of the Mercer County prosecutor’s office. Clayton is a member of Mercer’s Gang Intelligence Unit.
At Larkin’s bail hearing on Friday at the Trenton Criminal Courthouse, a no-contact order, which restricts him from setting foot on the College campus, was also maintained. In addition, a second no-contact order was issued preventing Larkin from approaching a female acquaintance who lives on the seventh floor of Travers Hall.
According to Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas P. Meidt as quoted in the Times of Trenton, the student is Larkin’s ex-girlfriend.
If Larkin is found guilty of the third degree false public alarm charge, Larkin could face from three to five years in prison.
Photographs on Larkin’s MySpace.com home page that show him and others flashing gang hand signs confirm that he is associated with the Nine Trey set of the Bloods street gang in Mercer County, according to Clayton.
Nine Trey refers to the original set of Bloods members who came out of the Rikers Island Prison Complex in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1993, he said.
“Nine Trey is one of the largest sets in the state, but probably the weakest in Mercer (County),” Clayton said.
Angelo Onofri, assistant prosecutor at the Mercer County prosecutor’s office, could not confirm or deny if Larkin had any prior convictions.
According to Clayton, the shooting hoax and other incidents represent a trend of gang activity at the College dating back to 2004.
“We’ve had indications of Blood and Crip activity in the past at (the College), at Rider University and at Mercer (County) Community College,” Clayton said.
Clayton said he had been called to the area in the past because of gang “tagging,” or graffiti, on and around the campus. He added that while there may be a gang presence on campus, it is not generally composed of College students.
“There’s no doubt that we have gang members going to college, but I think it’s mostly the outside influence coming on to campus, creating the influence and the culture,” Clayton said.
Problems Continue in Travers Day After Hoax
On the evening of Oct. 8, a patrol of Travers 7 by a Campus Police officer resulted in the questioning, transportation and release of two men, neither of whom are students at the College, according to a Campus Police operations report.
Patrolman Lorenzo Shockley was on a rove as part of the added security measures put in place after the shooting hoax. According to the report, Shockley encountered the two men, Tristan E. Norman and Justin K. Rey, both of Paterson, at 10 p.m. According to the report, “both subjects appeared to be nervous and hesitated on their answers” when questioned. They also indicated they had gone through the security desk.
After the initial encounter, the two men entered the room of the Travers 7 resident connected with Larkin, according to the report. Shockley radioed the Travers security desk and determined that the two men had not registered as guests. Sgt. Michael Bell, Senior Security Officer Armond Harris and Patrolman James Lopez (no relation to Lt. Lopez) responded and went to the seventh floor.
The Travers 7 resident said in a telephone interview with The Signal that Norman and Rey were not her guests on the evening of Oct. 8. She said this “was an isolated incident.”
Campus Police officers asked the two men to exit the room and escorted them “to the elevator lobby room for further questioning.” The report said while they were questioned, both men “were very nervous” and one “attempted to leave the area several times.”
The report said one of the men was wearing a name tag that read “Hakim Talib,” which did not match the name provided by the wearer, prompting Shockley to ask the man for identification. The man said he could not provide identification because it was in his car. The report said “he would not give any further information.”
Lt. Lopez then authorized transportation of the two men to Campus Police headquarters. There, Norman and Rey provided identification information which was verified by Campus Police. It was also determined that neither Norman nor Rey had outstanding warrants.
“I advised the two subjects, the next time they visit (the College) to go through proper channels,” Shockley said in the report. “Both subjects were released an hour after being detained for investigative purposes.”
An Earlier Encounter with Campus Police
Oct. 7 was not Larkin’s first encounter with Campus Police. According to Lt. Lopez, on the evening of Sept. 9, Larkin and an unspecified number of other individuals were questioned by Campus Police after they allegedly offered residents marijuana.
According to Lt. Lopez, officers went to Travers and investigated the call. He said the men involved, including Larkin, “were ID’d and released” because “no drugs were found.”
When questioned about Larkin’s connection to the Travers 7 resident, Lt. Lopez declined to comment. In a telephone interview with The Signal, the resident denied any current romantic relationship with Larkin.
“He is not my boyfriend,” she said. Referring to the night of Sept. 9, the student said, “(Larkin) was not my guest. I did not invite him here.” She also said that when Larkin arrived on Sept. 9, she immediately told him to leave.
An examination of Larkin’s MySpace.com home page revealed photographs of guns and drugs. Casey DiBlasio, public information officer at the Mercer County prosecutor’s office, confirmed the MySpace page as Larkin’s.
The general section contains a slideshow of photographs that includes a table covered in bound stacks of money, a large bag of marijuana and another bag containing cocaine in rock form.
Other photographs featured in an album titled “Da homies” highlight Larkin’s alleged gang affiliations. The first picture, with the caption “Nine Trey Toon Ryder,” displays the Nine Trey logo outlined in black and red. Several other images depict Larkin or others flashing gang signs for the camera. One picture in particular, displaying the letters of the word “Blood” surrounding a five-point star, intrigued Detective Clayton.
“The five-point star represents the ‘People Nation.’ It’s a whole thing that came out of Chicago in the ’80s,” Clayton said. “It’s like how the teams in Major League Baseball align themselves in the National or American League. Gangs from the East Coast and West Coast, they align themselves under People or Folk (respectively). The Bloods (and) the Latin Kings, they align themselves under the ‘People Nation,’ while groups like the Crips align themselves with ‘Folk Nation’ under a six-point star.
“One photograph features a drawer filled with handguns and handgun magazines. The caption under this photograph reads, “Yea I play with them thangs. Ya dig.”
Campus Police Response
Currently, Campus Police has 24-hour security desks in Travers/Wolfe halls.
According to Lt. Lopez, the response to the first of three 911 calls on the morning of Oct. 7 was swift and in accordance with the College’s Critical Incident Plan. Lt. Lopez said that by his arrival at the College, “(Campus Police) had already responded to the sixth and seventh floors to search the areas mentioned in the 911 calls.”
Officers searched the building for the alleged shooter after the 6 a.m. call that reported a shooting in Travers. As the day progressed, it became increasingly apparent there was no evidence a shooting had occurred. Slightly before noon, Lt. Lopez said Campus Police had officially determined the reported shooting was a hoax.
Critical Incident Plan Put into Action
Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said the campus’ response to the Oct. 7 incident was effective. This was the first time the College’s “Critical Incident Plan,” a contingency plan set aside for any and all crisis scenarios, was put to use since it was reviewed after the Virginia Tech tragedy last spring.
“We responded quickly. People were notified immediately. The information on the situation was posted within minutes,” Golden said. “I received a call about the alleged shooting at 6:25 a.m. The first postings went out around 6:40 a.m.”
Golden was in Washington, D.C., for the duration of the incident. He did not return to campus but stayed where he was so he could continually update the College’s Web site.
“The key was that we kept students updated with every little bit of information we knew as we learned it,” Golden said.
While Golden thought the College’s reaction was successful, he did notice some room for improvement. Golden has said the Critical Incident Plan is a “consistently updated document.”
“One area I want to improve is getting the info out to the parents faster,” Golden said, though he added, “In a crisis situation, you have to first focus on those most directly impacted – the people on campus.”Golden noted that the postings on the College’s Web site were more frequent and detailed than in previous emergency situations. He said the College is also nearly ready to implement a text messaging alert system through NJEdge, a technology consortium that works primarily with New Jersey colleges and universities.
“I am confident it will be up this semester, hopefully by mid-November,” he said.
Golden said it is important to realize that the text messaging system is not a cure-all for emergency situations, listing several potential flaws.
“These systems are not an answer in themselves. You need to have multiple communication channels. A lot of times there is a low subscription rate for these systems because they are on a volunteer basis,” Golden said. “Even at Virginia Tech only something like 56 percent of the campus is enrolled. There is also the problem of service providers getting bogged down or dead zones.”
“It’s a nice addition,” Golden said. “But it is not a replacement.”
Several students said the use of e-mail and the Internet was impractical in the early hours of the morning, as most of them would not check their computers at that time. Students also expressed concern that the hard line phones, which are set up in every dorm room on campus, were not used in the alert.
“When I sent out the first wave of announcements, I did the broadcast voicemail as well. However, since that time I’ve heard from several people that they did not receive it,” Golden said. “We’re looking into whether there was a glitch in the system or whether it was a human error. That is a perfect example of why you need multiple communication channels in case something goes wrong.”