Mercyhurst students disciplined for weapons violation

Two Mercyhurst College students have received disciplinary action from the college for possessing three firearms in their on-campus apartment.

The extent of the disciplinary action is a confidential matter by federal law, college officials said. The names of the students and what action was taken cannot be revealed.

What officials can say is that on Monday, Oct. 31, Residence Life received a tip that two students were storing several guns and ammunition being stored in a college apartment. Possessing weapons of any kind on campus by a student is a violation of college rules.

Police and Safety and the Residence Life staff reacted immediately to the tip and searched the apartment to confirm the report.

According to Vice President of Student Life Gerard Tobin, the weapons were confiscated on sight, and the students were questioned about them. The weapons were military-style firearms that were disassembled, locked and stored separately. According to one person close to the investigation, one of the students had hundreds of rounds of ammunition and the other had about two dozen rounds. The ammunition was kept separate from the guns.

Residence Life and Police and Safety examined the scene and determined that the students did not pose a real threat to the students or to the community, Tobin said.

The students were very cooperative throughout the entire incident and are going through the student conduct procedure, Tobin said. The students were suspended until their punishment was determined. Just what the punishment is cannot be reported, Tobin said.

After questioning, it was concluded the guns in the apartment were not a danger, but rather the students had made a poor judgment call by storing them there, Tobin said.

An email was sent out to all students three days after the incident to inform students of what had occurred and let them know there was no potential threat to them on campus.

“I was just upset it took Mercyhurst so long to come out and tell us about it. First I heard it through word of mouth and then on the local news. It upset me to think Mercyhurst didn’t tell us because I’d hope they would have our best interests at heart,” sophomore Angela Staszak.

The Student Handbook, which can be found on the portal, said: “Weapons of any kind are strictly prohibited. Use or possession of any item on campus that could jeopardize the health and/or safety of the community is prohibited. The College reserves the right to determine whether a specific object jeopardizes the health and/or safety of the community.”

Punishments listed in the handbook include a $350 fine, 70 hours of community restitution and disciplinary probation. Also listed are “possible counseling assessment, possible removal from college housing, possible suspension, possible expulsion, possible arrest and prosecution.”

According to one source close to the investigation, one of the students was suspended from campus during the winter term. He can take classes remotely during the winter term and return to campus in the spring.

“On one hand this was a really unfortunate occurrence. Anytime there are perceptions that people could be in a dangerous situation, we always want to avoid it. The upside is we live in a community that tries to take care of one another,” Tobin said.

Tobin termed a local news station’s coverage of the matter “highly dramatized,” particularly in characterizing students on as being upset and feeling unsafe. The station’s linking of gun violence in the inner city to the Mercyhurst matter was also unsubstantiated in any way, Tobin said.

“I did not feel threatened by the gun incident on campus. I didn’t think the situation would turn into anything dangerous,” sophomore Megan Baniszewski said.

The Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it statewide as a short news item. Several newspapers ran the story.

Asked if it would be possible for students to store guns for hunting or recreational purposes at the Police and Safety office, Chief Robert Kuhn said, “No, we do not have the facility to safely store weapons here on campus. Our evidence room isn’t adequate for this, and I really wouldn’t want the responsibility for the safekeeping of students’ weapons here at Police and Safety.”