Ohio University closed for the day midday Wednesday
after reports that an armed robbery suspect was on the loose in the area. As of
about 4 p.m., the man was reportedly still at large, and OU officials were
still mulling whether to stay closed tomorrow. A scheduled home men's
basketball game was also canceled at the university.
The university, however, does intend to reopen on Thursday (Jan. 31), officials announced Wednesday.
News of the armed robbery came into OU shortly before 9:30 a.m. that a
man had robbed a woman at gunpoint at an Athens apartment complex, and
reportedly fled onto the campus, where he was sighted near Stocker Center, with
officers from OU and Athens Police in pursuit. OU officials followed the
situation closely, and when the man had not been caught some two-and-a-half
hours later, President Roderick McDavis chose around noon to cancel classes,
and send home students, faculty and all non-essential staff – possibly close to
25,000 people in all.
During a telephonic news conference Wednesday
afternoon with the fugitive still at large, McDavis defended his decision as
neither too hasty nor too slow.
From about 9:30 till noon, he said, he and other top
officials kept expecting to hear that the man had been arrested. "The sense
that we had was that the suspect would be apprehended," he explained.
When that didn't happen, McDavis said, he opted for
safe rather than sorry.
"If I err, I will always err on the side of safety
for our students, faculty and staff," he declared.
Stephen T. Golding, vice president for finance and
administration, added that when an armed man is spotted on campus, "that
obviously represents a significant threat to our campus." However, he noted,
all indications are that the man only ended up on campus because he was fleeing
a crime scene.
"This did not appear to be somebody who was trying to
do something (violent) on the campus," he said.
At about 1 p.m. Athens City
Schools sent an electronic message to families saying that after consulting
with Athens Police, they decided not to send students home early, though the
schools were in lockdown status. The nearest schools to the crime scene weren't
within easy walking distance.
By about 12:30 p.m., in the wake of the closure, a
vast parade of umbrella-hoisting people was making its way north up a
rain-soaked Court Street in Athens, in numbers far exceeding the usual
"I think they shut down campus," reported one young
man, walking with a woman as part of the moving crowd. "We just got kicked out
McDavis said the university immediately activated its
emergency communication system after learning of the robbery, getting the word
out through email, its website and social media, and also sending text messages
to all students, faculty and staff who had given OU their phone numbers for
The robber, described as an African-American male in
his mid-30s, 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-2 in height, wearing a blue hoodie and blue
jeans, reportedly used a semi-automatic handgun to rob a woman of $5 in a
parking lot of the Station Street Apartments. He was seen fleeing toward the
Stocker Center/Oxbow trail area.
Around 10 a.m. OU Student Affairs took precautionary
measures, which included asking all in-hall residential housing staff to have a
presence in their buildings/common areas to answer questions and provide advice
to students. (Residence halls are locked at all times in any case.) OU also
stationed full-time staff at all entrances of Baker Center, and recreation
facilities such as Ping Center, Bird Arena and the Aquatic Center, to report
As the crowd streamed up Court Street Wednesday, one
woman – who asked to remain anonymous, citing the fact that she is in the
military – reported that OU had put the word out about the shutdown through
multiple channels, including Twitter, text messages to student phones, and an
alert on the front page of its website.
Julie White, an associate professor of political
science, said she got the word "in the middle of a faculty meeting," first by
text message, then confirmed by a secretary in Bentley Hall.
Mid-afternoon Wednesday, some students appeared to be
making light of the crisis, issuing a Twitter alert for "Fugitive-Fest" at
local bars, and indeed the bars seemed to be enjoying an unusual amount of
Wednesday afternoon activity.
At Wednesday's phone news conference, McDavis said
that after canceling classes, "it just seemed natural" to also cancel the men's
basketball game, which would have drawn crowds of students and townspeople
alike back to campus. He added that Athletic Director Jim Schaus is actually
the one who recommended the cancellation. That game, with Eastern Michigan, has
been rescheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 20, in the Convocation Center.