After it was announced that Ohio University would be closing the campus Wednesday afternoon while an armed robber remained at large, some students did not heed the university’s advice to return home and instead hit the bars and house parties.
The decision was made around noon to close the university following a Wednesday-morning armed robbery off campus in the parking lot of Station Street Apartments. The suspect robbed a woman of $5 and was not immediately apprehended. As a safety precaution, university officials opted to close the Athens campus and told students to return to their dorms or off-campus homes, and non-essential employees were also sent home.
While some students abided by the university’s advice and stayed home, others took advantage of the afternoon off and celebrated. Some uptown Athens bars reportedly opened early to accommodate students and phrases like “Fugitive Fest” and “Gun Day Fun Day” began to surface on social media websites such as Twitter.
The armed suspect was described as being an African-American male, about 6’1” in height, wearing a blue hoodie and jeans. On Wednesday evening, photos of blue hoodie-themed parties were posted online.
Some local pubs were offering drink specials to commemorate the occasion, including “blue fugitive shots.”
On Thursday, the downtown screen-printing shop Precision Imprint was already selling “Fugitive Fest” T-shirts for $5. The shirt reads, “#FugitiveFest. It’s all about the Lincoln. Can’t catch a fugitive? Catch a buzz!”
Heather Schultz of Precision Imprint said the idea for the shirt was discussed on Wednesday and she drew up the design on Thursday morning. She said the shirts were on sale by 1 p.m. on Thursday. Schultz said a few of the shirts were sold on Thursday at the store, and she shipped an order of five shirts about 10 minutes after posting an image of the shirt on Facebook.
The Messenger spoke to several OU students on Thursday who said they weren’t happy about some people being insensitive about the situation.
Lauren Burns, a junior, and Jordan McDonnell, a senior, are both residential assistants on the OU campus. While they had to stay and staff their dorms, both said they weren’t happy about how other students reacted on Wednesday.
“It pisses me off,” Burns said. “It just amplifies the drinking school reputation. Yeah, I’m 21, but I choose to get an education.”
McDonnell said he understood why students would use the afternoon to party, but said once names like “Fugitive Fest” and “Gun Day Fun Day” started being used, it became offensive.
“When they’re using phrases like that to celebrate a negative event, that’s where I draw the line,” McDonnell said.
Natalie Powers, a sophomore, said one of her sorority sisters is from Newtown, Conn., where the mass shooting of students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School took place a few months ago. She said her sorority sister had a hard time dealing with the event on campus on Wednesday.
“I can’t even imagine how she felt,” Powers said.
OU students Frank Short, Bill Thompson and Alex Rice said they all stayed home after the campus closed, but said the decision was mostly due to rainy weather, not fear for their safety.
“I honestly think the whole thing was a hoax,” Thompson said.
Rice said that students on any other college campus would have acted similarly to those OU students who chose to party after the cancellation of classes.
“It’s like a snow day on the big kids’ level,” added Thompson.
First-year graduate student Justin Allen said that many undergraduate students thought of Wednesday’s campus closure as an opportunity to drink. Allen said he went home because OU advised it. He said he believed it was a good safety measure on OU’s part to close the campus.
Freshman Alec Weber said the fact that some students participated in “Fugitive Fest” was “very irresponsible and unintelligent.” He said he didn’t think it was a good idea for students to be outside drunk after an armed robbery.
“You’re putting yourself in a bad situation,” Weber said.
Weber said he didn’t think OU students were in danger following the robbery because the suspect was likely just using the campus as an escape route.
“But it’s better to be cautionary when lives are at risk,” he said.
OU Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi said that he was “disappointed” in the way some students and business owners reacted following the campus closure. However, he said it appeared to be a small minority of students who were partying.
“I think the students and business owners should put themselves in the shoes of the victim,” Lombardi said Thursday. “It wouldn’t be so funny if (the robbery) had ended in a different way, and it certainly could have.”
Lombardi said it was a shame that some uptown businesses were using the situation to “make a buck.”
“I think it’s shallow,” he said.
When asked if he thought the campus closure was warranted in retrospect, Lombardi said, “I think the decision was right.”
Lombardi said he and OU President Roderick McDavis agreed that it was “better to overreact to the situation than to underreact.”