by PATRICK BROWN
On Feb. 24 and 25, a man with no known connection to the University tried to get into Willard Hall and successfully entered an academic building. He reportedly rattled door handles and followed and intimidated several students. The man was located and barred from University property, and students were notified through email on Feb. 26 and 27.
Freshman Grace Sylvia was one of the students he approached on the night of Feb. 24 outside of Willard Hall. She was with some friends at the time and reported it to the campus police soon after.
“He asked us how to get into Willard and why everyone was staring at him,” said Sylvia. “My friend told him people were likely looking at him because he was not wearing a mask. We called campus non-emergency about 20 minutes after he approached us and called twice on Thursday when he approached our friends. We gave a detailed description of the man and told police that he was following girls around campus and trying to get into buildings.”
Sylvia remembered feeling nervous because the exterior doors to Willard Hall do not lock immediately.
“We knew we were safe but we were nervous, especially since the doors to the dorms take about 20 seconds to lock and everyone holds the door for people so he could have easily gotten into the building,” she said.
Freshman Andrea Hardesty was with Sylvia that night.
“He was at one of the entrances pulling on the doors,” said Hardesty. “He then approached my friend and got really close to her. He seemed disoriented and it was just a weird situation.”
Before calling the police, Hardesty worried about causing too much of a stir over the interaction.
“We didn’t want to be dramatic and cause a scene but we felt super uncomfortable,” she said. “Because there was only one report, they took note of it but nothing else seemed to happen until Thursday night.”
The following night, the man showed up around Willard Hall again.
“On Thursday, a lot of our friends contacted us and told us they saw him again around Willard, and he asked a lot of people for directions and seemed to follow them,” said Hardesty. “My friend called campus PD again and explained the situation and we told people to report him if they see him. Campus PD then seemed to be all over campus.”
Hardesty witnessed the police respond to the call when the man showed up again.
“We saw him again outside of Willard on Campus Walk,” she said. “There were two other girls that seemed to be freaked out so I called them over to make sure they were safe. An officer saw us and came over to speak to him and he basically asked him to put a mask on or leave campus and the man walked away. He explained to us that after talking to him, he noticed he possibly had some cognitive issues and told us that if we saw him to report him again. Thankfully that was the last time we saw him and my friends and I haven’t heard anything since.”
According to UMW Police Chief Michael Hall, the man came to campus two times. The first was Feb. 25, the day before the email was sent out to students. He returned the day after, at which point he was apprehended by UMW Police.
“The person was charged with unlawful entry and trespassing,” said UMW Police Chief Michael Hall. “However, these charges have not been adjudicated.”
Hall said that normally the preliminary hearings for this case would have happened by now, but the justice system has been slowed down due to COVID-19. Hall estimates that his case will probably be heard by the end of March.