A shotgun on campus, students left in dark

By John Hollinger

News Contributor

On March 24, Tim Graham, an adjunct professor at Canisius, was on his way to the library when he spotted something in the back seat of a parked car which caused him to call Public Safety.

“I noticed a shotgun standing up in the back seat,” said Graham.

“At 45-years-old, I’ve seen a few things in my life and didn’t want to take any chances.”  

Graham went inside and told the librarian, and they called Public Safety.

“I wasn’t afraid for my safety or anyone else’s safety, but I just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Graham.

But it was too late. The car drove off down Main Street before Public Safety could arrive at the scene. The suspects only made it to the corner of Main Street, as Public Safety caught up after the suspect was pulled over by Buffalo Police. Graham then took the next few hours filling out police reports on what had just happened.

Graham told his class that night what had happened– that he had spent the last few hours filling out a police report for a shotgun that he had just spotted on campus. Hearing this, Graham’s students conversed over how they were about to receive a Timely Notification about what had just happened.

“I laughed about it jokingly and told Professor Graham how we’d all probably get an e-mail about it,” said Adam Chin, ‘16, who was in Graham’s class.

However, that Timely Notification never came.

The librarian, Tim Graham, and his class of 25 students were the only ones who knew of the shotgun on campus that day. In fact, two more guns were found in the trunk of that same car by police according to Head Public Safety Officer, H. Wil Johnson, who was at the scene that day. The rest of the campus community was unaware of this.

Canisius College students are required to be notified via an e-mail called a ‘Timely Notification’ when there is a “remaining danger to the Canisius College community,” according to Johnson. But a shotgun reported on campus was apparently not worthy of this on March 24, 2016.

Timely Notifications were sent out after reports of gunshots and the discovery of a deceased male on the porch of 289 Humboldt on the night of Oct. 6. Two weeks later, students also received a timely notification of a murder in front of 341 Humboldt. Each of these two incidents involved a firearm and a death, and were significant enough to have a Timely Notification be sent out.

But students did not receive any notice of a shotgun spotted on campus on March 24. Although there was no one killed in this incident, like the two in October, a shotgun was reported on school grounds, which is a first-class felony in the state of New York. To add to that — minutes later, two more guns were found in the trunk of that same car.

Public Safety officers were aware of these weapons on campus after going to the scene. The Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Terri Mangione, was also aware of it. Multiple members of administration knew, but they chose not to notify students. Of approximately 4,000 students who attend Canisius, less than one percent were aware of these firearms on campus. One of the few people who did know was the man who reported it, Tim Graham.

If Graham hadn’t reported the incident, it’s unclear what would have happened. Graham received a letter of protection in the mail which prevented Robert Zorn and Zorn’s mother, the two suspects, from being allowed to go near Graham’s home, school, business, and place of employment. Zorn was also charged with criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds.

All of this happened, and students were never notified.

But why didn’t the rest of the College at least get notified? What if the presence of a shotgun on campus turned into something much worse? There were a few reasons as to why this particular incident didn’t meet the standards required to alert students in the form of a Timely Notification, according to Director of Public Safety Johnson.

Timely Notifications were initially enforced when the Jeanne Clery Act was put into place. All colleges that are federally funded, like Canisius, have to abide by it. It was originally put into action in 1990 after Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University, was raped and murdered on campus in 1986. Its purpose is to protect students on college campuses. The Clery Act requires colleges to “share information about crime on campus and their effort to improve campus safety, as well as inform the public around campus,” according to the clerycenter.org website.  

Having a weapon on a campus is a crime, and the suspect was later charged in a court of law. But Canisius decided not to notify students, even though the Clery Act states that they are required to inform the public around campus.

According to Johnson, the decision to send out a Timely Notification is made mainly between himself and the Vice President of Student Affairs, Terri Mangione. Johnson did not think that there was a remaining danger to the campus community.

“We don’t put out a Timely Notification until we know that something has occurred. We didn’t know at that point what in fact was the situation…We had the car stopped, the two people in custody, so there was no danger to the remaining community by the time we found out what happened.” Although the shotgun was reported on campus, Public Safety wasn’t aware of the entire situation until the suspects were off campus, pulled over on the side of Main Street.

According to Johnson, there is also a lack clarity as to who exactly Mangione consults with during the process.

“I’m not sure exactly who [Mangione] consults with,” said Johnson. “I know it’s someone from Student Life, someone from PR… it’s four or five people.”

According to the conversation that the two had on this incident, they did not see a remaining threat to the campus community because they had the suspects in custody by the time they found out what had happened. This is up to the collective discretion and decision-making of Johnson and Mangione. It also includes the people who Mangione may consult with.

So if there was “no remaining threat to the campus community,” why could they not at least send an informational e-mail to let students know? Although this did not fit the protocols of a Timely Notification, an informational e-mail still could have been sent out to let students know what had happened. Informational e-mails have been sent out to let the campus community know what is going on and to take caution.  Students received an informational e-mail from Johnson on Aug. 29 to take caution for the Slow Roll Buffalo bicycle riders passing through the city. Yet Johnson and Mangione chose not to e-mail students to give caution that there were three shotguns on campus.

“We don’t want to make a chaotic environment without all of the facts,” said Mangione in regards to why no Timely Notification was sent out immediately. “We want to get clarity of the situation first to give accurate and correct info.”

But once clarity is received, and there is “no longer a remaining danger to the campus community,” an e-mail can still be sent out. It does not have to be a Timely Notification if it does not meet the standards set by the Jeanne Clery Act, but it can still be an e-mail to caution students.

President and former Griffin Editor John J. Hurley sent out an informational e-mail to the campus community in regards to the black doll that was found in the elevator of Frisch Hall, which stirred outrage. Students admitted that they didn’t feel safe after that particular incident. Why couldn’t they send an e-mail similar to this in regards to the shotgun? The difference may have been the amount of people who knew, students in particular. Only about 25 students knew about the shotgun on campus. A few hundred students knew about the doll in the elevator after pictures were posted on social media. Canisius administration could not ignore that because too many students already knew.

“People need to understand what could have happened that day,” said Chin, when referring to the incident with the shotgun on campus.

Although the suspects were pulled over off campus and, according to Johnson, no longer a threat to the campus community, Johnson still admitted that he wasn’t entirely sure what their intentions were that day.

The two suspects were Robert Zorn and his mother. According to Johnson, they claimed that they got lost looking for a pawn shop. There are no pawn shops on campus. In fact, the closest pawn shop is 4.1 miles away. How is it that they got lost so far off from this supposed pawn shop?

“I think [Zorn and his mother] had other intentions,” said Johnson. “Whatever they were going to do, they were not going to leave [campus] with a shotgun… I think they were either going to pawn it or swap it.”

So although Johnson believes that they were trying to swap it with someone on campus, he apparently did not see any significance to at least send out an e-mail to caution students. Yet the entire school was notified to take caution for the Slow Roll Buffalo bicycle riders. The Griffin questions if this even makes sense.

Could the person that Zorn was trying to supposedly swap the shotgun with, in Johnson’s opinion, have been a Canisius student? If so, could this student still go to Canisius?

Johnson also admitted that if they had not stopped the suspects as quickly as they did, things may have ended a little differently.

“If we had not been able to apprehend him so quickly, we probably would have considered a Timely Notification,” said Johnson, “just because there would have been a shotgun reported and details left out.”

The Department of Public Safety’s Annual Security & Fire Report booklet defines the procedure of sending out Timely Notifications as follows:

“Canisius College will issue a Timely Warning Notice in the event it receives notice of an alleged Clery Act crime occurring on campus, on public property within or immediately adjacent to the College’s campus, or in non-campus buildings or property controlled by the College, where the College determines, in its judgement, that the allegations present serious or continuing threat to the Canisius College community.”

Chin, who learned about the shotgun on campus from his professor, admits that he wasn’t too happy about the entire procedure.

“The fact that people didn’t know that there was a shotgun on campus shows the lack of awareness and vulnerability that this school has,” said Chin.

This vulnerability that Chin mentions may have opened up when budget cuts were made a few years ago.

Johnson has admitted that his job in general has become a lot busier, especially in regards to the new definition of off-campus crime reports. He is also the only Public Safety officer on campus with no second-in-command officers underneath him.

“The layer [of second-in-command officers] in between me and the lieutenants that took care of all the cameras and investigations was taken out because of the budget,” said Johnson.

Johnson admitted that having a second-in-command would make his own job easier, and he would be able to be more efficient.

“Almost every other college in Western New York has a second-in-command to Public Safety. UB does, Buff State has multiple,” said Johnson.

This lack of clarity, as well as having no Public Safety officers in as second-in-command to assist Johnson, may be reasons as to why Timely Notifications are not being sent out when they should be. Chin admits that there are a lot of things wrong with the entire process.  

“It would be nice to be just, you know, be told of what’s going on,” said Steven Wizniuk, ‘17, a Canisius student who was in Graham’s class the night of the incident.

“If there was a burglary, or someone’s car was broken into on Hughes, just let us know so I know to lock my doors or stay away from Hughes that day. I’ve heard of multiple things happening on campus that they don’t tell us students, and it’s concerning,” said Wizniuk.

This shotgun incident still is an unknown crime to majority of the Canisius community, but that wouldn’t have been the case if Canisius Administration would just let students know.

“What I would like to see is transparency. Let me know what’s going on and be truthful to us about it. Stop hiding things,” said Chin.

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