By Sarah Rosenblum
Most Union students don’t think twice about putting their book bags down in the cubbies outside Upper while they eat lunch or dinner. Stephanie Hopp ‘12 did the same, but on Jan. 20 when she went to retrieve her black Northface backpack, it had mysteriously disappeared along with one belonging to Emma Zipurshky ‘13.
Later that day, Hopp received a worried text message from a friend asking if she was okay and wanting to know her whereabouts. Her backpack had turned up at the Cemetery near campus and was found by her friend, Luke Mackenzie ‘12.
Mackenzie recounts the incident: “I was driving through the cemetery near campus with my buddy, because driving through fresh snow in a truck is a ton of fun. What I saw on the first pass was a pink sports bag, things scattered everywhere, and a couple fresh tracks in the snow.” Mackenzie and his friend got out of the car to check out the situation and upon inspection realized that the items belonged to a Union student. There were “pens, shredded paper with the U logo and it looked like everything had been violently tossed about.” Ziphursky’s backpack was found in the graveyard along with Hopp’s. Both students’ books were stolen but Ziphursky’s backpack was still there. Mackenzie also saw Hopp’s California ID and immediately tried to get in contact with her.
“At that point I thought it must have been the scene of a recent mugging, but then I found a small Union shirt and workout pants which were tossed into the bushes. My mind couldn’t help but think of the worst.” Mackenzie ran around the area from the river to the hill shouting Hopp’s name.
“Maybe I have been watching too much Law and Order: SVU, but I couldn’t think of any other plausible scenarios,” Mackenzie said. Finally, he got a text that Hopp was in class and safe, and he began to calm down.
Mackenzie brought Hopp the items he had found and they returned to the cemetery to quickly search again for any other stray items, using the spotlight on Mackenzie’s truck. Hopp said she felt “completely violated” and she was reluctant to touch her belongings since it was unsettling knowing that someone had ripped through her backpack.
Hopp’s textbooks, iPod, and credit card were all stolen, and just within a few hours, her credit card had been charged $200. She is currently in the process of being refunded by Bank of America.
The next morning, Hopp and Ziphurshky met with Union’s Campus Safety office to watch the live video recording of the theft since there are cameras located outside the dining hall. The video showed two boys entering from the side and they put their jackets in random cubbies. The boys appeared to be slender, white, and were wearing backwards baseball caps. They looked like they could be average Union students.
On the video, they walk away from the dining hall area for approximately 30 seconds before coming back and quickly grabbing a random backpack to hide under their jackets. No one looked at the boys suspiciously or thought twice about them being there.
Christopher Hayen, Director of Campus Safety, claims that the cubby area has been an area of interest for thieves.
“Many of the persons perpetrating these crimes take the time to dress and act as if they are students,” he commented. “We have had some success with placing a campus safety person in the area wearing plain clothes and having officers monitor the Reamer Center area, monitoring who is entering the building.”
Though they have not yet caught a thief in the act yet this term, last term they did make an arrest of a non-student.
“We have identified and advised nonstudent individuals to stay off campus. So far, we have not been in the right place at the right time to catch a thief this term but it is only a matter of time,” Hayen said.
In the past, Dinning Services used to have a sign that prohibited backpacks from entering the dining hall. Hayen says, “These signs have been removed so students could better monitor valuables.”
Walking through Upper, anyone can see or steal the iPhones, Blackberries, ID cards and other belongings that students casually place on the table to mark their spot. Hopp is now much more cautious of her surroundings and says she tries not to walk anywhere by herself at night and is skeptical of people who don’t really look like they belong.
While Union students are cautioned to be aware of their surroundings when walking alone at night, no one ever thinks about safety issues in Reamer Campus Center, especially during broad daylight.
So the next time you think about saving your seat with your blackberry while you get your food, think twice. Someone else might beat you to it.