While many people were making jokes and playing tricks on April 1, 2008, the security alerts sent through Millersville University near Lancaster, PA were no April Fools’ joke. At 11:00 a.m., the on-campus security sent alerts via text message to everyone on campus. According to news reports, the text message received stated, “MU Emergency! Stay off-campus. If on campus, lock yourself in a room and await instructions. Info at MU web site to follow.”
Twenty minutes later, a follow- up text was sent out informing students that there was a student on campus who was a “potential threat to the community.”
Finally, a third text message sent just after 12:00 p.m. alerted students that police were on the lookout for 24-year-old student Joel Yodis.
MSNBC reported that as soon as the messages were sent, the Public Safety department was flooded with phone calls from students wondering if this was a joke.
Director of Safety Patrick Weidinger answered every call he received with, “Yes. This is for real. Go into lockdown.”
Earlier in the day, an unnamed student sent an e-mail to a professor informing him that he would not be in class, as he was afraid of Yodis. The student had suspicions that Yodis was carrying a gun. The professor immediately contacted local police and campus security.
The text messages urged the students to stay wherever they were with the doors locked. At 12:44 p.m. students received one final text alert. “The emergency is over, and the lockdown has been lifted.”
According to timesleader.com, first-year student Allison Karlen was working in the library when she received her text. Only moments after the text with Yodis’ name was received, he walked into the room and she called the police immediately. Yodis was then taken into custody.
Zena Zellers, a first-year student at Millersville, alleged that Yodis had made threats in a class the two students shared and that at the time of the alert, on Tuesday, many students did not take the warning seriously. Zellers said she was scared at the time of the alert and “didn’t really know what was going on.”
Zellers, who was not signed up for the public safety texting service, said she will now join the list.
Surrounding schools including Penn Manor High School and Eshelman Elementary School went under lockdown as well as a precaution.
Millersville University is one of the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), and is located only about 50 miles from the West Chester University campus. It has an undergraduate population of 7,259 students and boasts a diverse population, a large variety of programs and a close-knit atmosphere.
Having transpired so close to home, many students are now concerned about their safety.
“The incident at Millersville is a chilling reminder that campuses are not completely safe, and tragedies like Virginia Tech could happen anywhere,” Ashley Manta said. “For this reason it is important to have open lines of communication between Public Safety and the students. It’s scary to hear when these events happen far away, but it’s even worse when they’re almost around the corner.”
The text messages sent were from a program similar to the E2Campus system here at West Chester. Implemented just after the incident at Virginia Tech this past year, E2Campus is a free service that sends messages to anyone signed up when there is a threat in the area.
Students can sign up through West Chester Public Safety.
Jenn Rothstein is a first-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at JR649299@wcupa.edu.