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City and campus police respond to armed fugitive

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While many students on the Ohio University campus celebrated the impromptu #FugitiveFest last Wed., Jan. 30 at the numerous uptown establishments, and another faction stayed locked safely inside a dorm room, apartment or house, a real threat hit the Athens campus.

At approximately 9:20 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the Athens City Police Department learned of a robbery in the parking lot of an apartment complex near Ohio University’s West Green. The perpetrator reportedly made off with five dollars. Athens Police responded, took a description from the victim and investigated the scene.

The female victim described the thief as a black male, 6’1” or 6’2” tall, probably between the ages of 30 and 35, according to the police incident report. The victim described a semi-automatic handgun carried by the robber.

Athens City Police Chief Tom Pyle said the suspect took off toward the Ohio University campus, prompting the city police to notify the Ohio University Police Department and President Roderick McDavis. Police remained on the scene for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. No one in the Athens area reported suspicious activity or a sighting of the gunman the rest of the day.

“Of course [the gunman] posed a threat to the public,” Pyle said. “It is easy to look back in hindsight and say, ‘He probably did not intend to hurt anyone.’ Because he chose to flee, that would indicate he was trying to get away and not be seen.”

Pyle said the city of Athens averages only about 11 robberies per year. The rare armed robbery prompted action from the school. The possibility of the thief carrying a gun convinced McDavis to cancel classes for the remainder of the day and shut down the campus. Cue the beer taps.

Many students found the entire matter laughable. New hashtags #FugitiveFest and #GunDayFunDay quickly started making rounds through Ohio University circles on Twitter. Half of the student population welcomed the unexpected afternoon off by shuffling to one of the bars on Court Street or to an unplanned house party. Other portions of the student body used the time to catch up on some homework, sometimes criticizing the revelers, throwing out the terms “embarrassing” and “disgusted.”

Pyle said the department expected the student reaction.

“We see it with most holidays,” he said. “Kids are going to take advantage of free time.”

The suspect still remains at large.

According to precedent from other schools, Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers said the school wanted to get a text out on the emergency text system within 30 to 40 minutes of the incident to alert students of any possible danger. The emergency text system allows for only 120 characters, so the school included a link to more information.

“Many students did not follow the link,” Powers said. “The link contained important information that was being misreported by social media. Professional media even reported some wrong information by using social media sites.”

Powers said the school never went into lockdown and never told the students to stay indoors. The school simply wanted to make the students aware of the situation.

“The suspect still remains at large, and the longer we go without finding him, the more likely he is to disappear,” Powers said.

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