Premeditated robbery in Rouzer Hall

Three Westminster locals arrested

By Christine Boynton, Commentary Co-Editor and Melanie Chupein,Co-Editor in Chief

Aaron Christopher Robertson, 20, Brian Charles Prodehl, 20, and John Thomas Gibbs, 20, all of Westminster, were charged with armed robbery, burglary, and theft, stemming from an incident that took place just before midnight on November 14, in Rouzer Hall.

Freshmen Greg Vernon and Sergio Nieto were the victims.

“We were by the door and all of a sudden three guys in all black hoodies and black long pants and bandanas came in and locked the door behind them,” said Vernon in a phone interview conducted soon after the burglary.

The intruders demanded that Vernon and hand over money and personal items.

“Then my friend starting getting jumpy, so they told him to go stand in the corner, like they were going to shoot him,” Vernon added. “They went through the rest of our stuff and just told him not to move.”

Nieto could not be reached for comment.

“I could tell one of the kids was a townie, and his name was Aaron, which I told the cops,” said Vernon.

The day after the incident, the Department of Campus issued three campus-wide emails alerting the college community about the incident.

A November 15 email stated, “At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 15, 2007 two resident students came to the Department of Campus Safety reporting they had been robbed in their room at Rouzer Hall. Witness statements indicate that the robbery took place sometime between 9:30 p.m. and 12:50 a.m.”

“One of the suspects displayed what the student described as a revolver and made threatening statements against the two students demanding money and personal property, which the students surrendered,” the email continued.

The robbery caught the attention of local newspapers and television stations.

On November 16 in an article from The Baltimore Sun titled “3 sought in robbery at college,” Arin Gencer reported that three men entered Rouzer Hall, armed and dressed in dark clothing and bandanas over their faces, according to Michele Leiberman, a spokeswoman for McDaniel. The brief article advised anyone with any information to contact the city police Criminal Investigations Division.

Also on November 16, ABC2 News published the article, “Armed Robbery at McDaniel College,” leading off with, “It’s common courtesy to hold the door for someone entering behind you. But investigators in Westminster say that may be how three suspects got into McDaniel College and robbed two students.”

The article also noted that the local police were trying to determine exactly how the suspects gained entry to the building. The article emphasized that police believe the incident was isolated and, “there’s no reason for parents to be concerned.”

Only three days after the robbery, all three suspects had been identified and arrested, including the suspect whose voice Vernon had recognized.

Gibbs was charged with armed robbery, multiple counts of assault, burglary, theft, and use of a handgun in a crime of violence, according to an email submitted by Campus Safety. Prodehl had been charged with armed robbery, burglary, and theft. Roberston was also charged with armed robbery, burglary, and theft. All three men remain in custody, and Captain Randy Barnes of the Westminster Police reported that the case is closed.

In an interview with The Free Press, Director of Campus Safety Mike Webster, revealed the list of items taken from the student dorm: “U.S. currency, approximately $200, a lap top, a cell phone, and I believe an iPod. Most of that stuff was recovered by Westminster police when they did a search of the home.”

Many stories have circulated as to how the men entered the building, including a faulty door. There has been speculation that a student let the three robbers into the building, according to sources close to the incident.

At the time of the interview, Vernon said, “I don’t like Rouzer. I mean they fixed the door and everything, but it’s pretty open and easy to get into.”

The front door at the main entrance of Rouzer had been faulty and easily accessible without a key. All students had to do was force the door open with a strong tug, and then they could gain entry to the building. The problem with the door has since been fixed, and there is little evidence to suggest that this is how the suspects entered the building.

Another resident of Rouzer, who wishes to remain anonymous, reported to have seen the men just before they entered the hallway.

“I went to take a shower around 9:30 at night, and I saw three guys. I went back into my room to get my keys. I took my shower, went back to my room, and locked the door,” said the source. He did not report the sighting to campus safety.

“I just figured they were joking around,” he said.

This mindset did not come as a surprise to Webster, who said, “Students, and it’s not just McDaniel students, people 18-24 nationally are a very trusting group.”

Even Vernon had difficulty believing the gravity of the situation.

“I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the gun,” he said. “As soon as I saw the gun I knew it wasn’t a joke.”

There has also been speculation on campus that the robbery was drug related. All evidence proves that this was not a random incident because the victims knew the suspects and were able to identify them to the police. The anonymous source reported to have allegedly witnessed “a strong odor coming from the room,” that supposedly ended soon after the robbery, which the source described as “a wake up call.”

Barnes could not confirm that the incident was drug related.

“I can say that it’s not random, that at least one of the victims recognized one of the suspects,” he said, “but at this point I’m not able to say what the motive was for the robbery.”

Webster also denied any knowledge of drug involvement with this case, but confirmed that this was not a random incident. “The victims and the suspects knew each other,” he told The Free Press, “The victims went to an uninvolved student who they knew also knew the suspects and asked that student to get their stuff back from the suspects.”

This accounted for the delay in the reporting of the incident.

McDaniel has since taken steps to ensure student safety, including a replaced door and a changed lock.

The first campus email informing the college community about the robbery included some preventative advice that urged everyone to know who you are admitting into any residential facility, report any suspicious people to Campus Safety, and keep your door locked. Also, steps to follow if being robbed were listed, instructing: “1. Do not resist. Your money is not worth your life, 2. Get a detailed description and write it down as soon as you safely can, 3. Call police immediately and stay on the line until the dispatcher hangs up, 4. Stay calm and don’t disturb evidence.”

Despite all of the safety precautions that should be taken, Webster said, “Complete security is impossible to achieve.” All students can do is be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to Campus Safety.