Several members of the Gannon University community were caught off guard around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6, when a series of alarming tweets from Erie Alerts detailed a burglary in progress at 231 W. Third St.
Mitch Carroll, a junior criminal justice major, said he was at the Knights’ wrestling match when he overheard a group of girls discussing the tweets in the stands.
“I realized the address they were talking about was my fraternity house,” he said.
Carroll, a member of Delta Chi, said his reaction to the news was to leave the Hammermill Center immediately and to call one of his five fraternity brothers who live at the fraternity house. He said he talked to David Alexander, who was being transported to St. Vincent, where he was treated and released the same evening for abrasions on his head.
Alexander, a junior biology major, said he had been the only one at home on Feb. 6, and that he had been in his locked room studying and listening to music when he heard loud banging resounding from the first floor.
“I live in a fraternity house, so I didn’t really think anything of it,” he said.
The disturbance continued, however, and Alexander said he decided to open his door and see what was going on.
“I immediately had a gun in my face,” he said. “They were yelling at me, told me to get on the ground. That’s when they hit me with the butt of the gun, two or three times.”
Alexander said that the three suspects had shielded their faces, wearing bandanas and hooded sweatshirts. They continued to yell at him, asking him “where Sam was,” but Alexander said there is no one named Sam who lives at the house.
“They kept telling me I was lying,” he said.
The three suspects then proceeded to take Alexander and walk him to the first-floor kitchen, all the while, Alexander said, holding a gun to the back of his head.
“I really thought I was going to die,” he said. “They kept telling me they were going to kill me.”
Alexander said that the perpetrators fled the scene after breaking into several of the other bedrooms, taking their leave through the back door and heading south toward West Fourth Street.
Alexander said that as soon as they were gone, he fled to the attic of the house and called 911.
According to Ted Marnen, director of Police and Safety, Erie County received Alexander’s call at 8:17 p.m., and dispatched EPD. Gannon Police and Safety was not notified until a student called them after EPD had already arrived on the scene.
Marnen said that protocol for incidents occurring on properties inhabited by Gannon students is for EPD to notify Gannon police immediately, but that was not possible for this particular incident.
“We weren’t in the loop until afterwards,” Marnen said. “They didn’t know it was a fraternity house until they got there.”
Marnen said that Gannon’s response was to dispatch two officers to the house, which was surrounded by EPD.
“We didn’t go inside the house,” he said. “Our officers were assisting EPD, and we sent an officer to the hospital to be with the victim. We always like to have a representative from the university at the hospital.”
The wounds Alexander sustained from being struck with the gun didn’t need stitches, as he said they were able to clot on their own.
According to Alexander and the report filed with Gannon’s police, the suspects made off with cash, two Xboxes and an Acer tablet.
Marnen said he is convinced the suspects did not know Alexander was home.
“Most people who break into homes are afraid of what they’ll find,” he said. “They thought it was empty, so they kicked the back door in. Otherwise, why would you kick the back door in? Somebody could have a gun, and you don’t want to be seen or identified.”
Three suspects were apprehended and detained by EPD, but were eventually released because they had an alibi of playing basketball at the YMCA. Alexander was called in to identify them.
According to Marnen, there is a difference between positive and tentative identifications, and Alexander was only able to tentatively identify the three suspects.
“I could only see the top half [of their faces],” Alexander said. “When there’s a gun in your face, you focus on that.”
Marnen added that although they were released, they are still considered suspects, but EPD is also working off some new information that he said he was unable to disclose. Erie Police did not respond to inquiries regarding the investigation from The Gannon Knight.
Alexander said that while many factors contributed to the burglary, he is not letting his landlord off the hook so easily.
“We asked them like a week and a half before that we need deadbolts on our doors because they don’t lock properly,” he said. “They didn’t do anything, but when the crime team came back for fingerprints, they had put one on that morning.”
Alexander added that his landlord has not been taking phone calls from his or his fraternity brothers’ parents.
“We’re trying to break our lease right now,” he said. “None of us really want to go back there – I mean, my blood’s on the carpet and the kitchen floor.”
Marnen said he definitely thinks landlords have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure environment as best they can, but also sees that not all theft can be prevented.
“If somebody absolutely wants to get into your home, they’ll find a way to get in,” he said. “In my many years in law enforcement, I’ve seen people chop holes in roofs, in the walls, to get through.”
However, he said he has seen extra security measures that are meant to slow a burglar down pay off.
“The Tri Sigs [Sigma Sigma Sigma] had a problem a couple of years ago,” he said. “Their landlord put locking mechanisms on the windows, and they’ve had no issues since.”
Marnen also said that he can see why fraternity houses may be more susceptible to burglary than other off-campus houses.
“There are parties, there are often people you don’t know, and they become familiar with the inside of the house,” he said. “Most people are victimized by people they know, or who know them.
“People don’t randomly burglarize a house. They live in the neighborhood, they’ve seen the activity of the people who live there and they know their comings and goings.”
Alexander and his four roommates have since moved out of the Delta Chi house, and were put up for several days by friends living in the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority house before moving into North Hall.
Carroll and Alexander said this type of support has been indicative of the closeness of the Greek community.
“There were 10 brothers that beat the ambulance to the hospital,” Carroll said. “Five minutes after we knew he was there and OK, our whole chapter went down to the house, no questions asked.”
Alexander added that he truly is grateful for the hospitality of his friends in ASA and the generosity of Gannon for allowing him and his brothers to stay at North Hall at a discounted price.
“Gannon definitely came through,” he said.
Marnen said that although it is unfortunate that the house was burglarized, that is not his first concern.
“I’m concerned about the physical wellbeing of students,” he said. “You can replace an Xbox or a tablet but you can’t replace a serious injury or a death.”