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UMass Police say attack on male student at Pierpont Hall was not random; search for two suspects continues



Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016
AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts campus was thrust into a state of chaos Thursday evening when students and staff received text and email alerts indicating there were “one or two hostile armed persons” in a campus dormitory.

UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham said Thursday night that two men entered Pierpont Hall, in the Southwest residential area, and attacked a male student, hitting him on the head and brandishing a handgun.

Parham said the victim may have been hit with the gun, though he said there were “absolutely no shots fired.”

The male student was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for treatment of a cut on his head. He was not identified by authorities.

As the search continues for the two alleged assailants, police said they are not UMass students and that they have reason to believe the suspects are “from out of town.”

The incident prompted university officials to place the entire campus on lockdown just after 6 p.m. as authorities responded to the dorm.

Parham said UMass police recruited additional dispatchers to help field phone calls from students’ worried parents and families. University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said this was the first time the emergency alert system had been activated for this type of incident.

“It appeared this was not a random act,” Parham said. These were two college-aged, white men who specifically targeted the man who was injured and fled from campus in a car as soon as police were called, he added.

One suspect was described as wearing a dark shirt and gold chain, and the second was described as a wearing a gray sweatshirt. Parham said UMass police, State Police and other authorities surrounded the dorm, adding that response time was nearly “instantaneous.”

Just as the university issued an all-clear around 7:13 p.m., cheers and excited shouts from inside the dorm were heard from outside. But before UMass officials gave the all-clear, students remained in dorms and classrooms and dining halls trying to piece together what was happening around them.

During the lockdown earlier in the night, from outside the building, students could be seen peering from their windows as police came and went.

At Pierpont, guests must be escorted in by a resident of the hall to enter the building. Residents enter by tapping a card that unlocks the door.

After 8 p.m., guests and residents are required to sign in when entering the building. Sign-ins did not begin until around 8:40 p.m. at Pierpont Hall on Thursday night, residents said.

Kyle Connell, 20, a Pierpont resident assistant, walked the halls talking with students, wielding a wooden baseball bat.

Connell was one of the on-duty RAs Thursday night. He said he was not in the building at the time of the incident but he ran back to Pierpont after receiving a text.

“You never think it would happen to you,” Connell said.

Meanwhile, Jacob Latorra, 19, stood outside at Moore Hall — where he lives — which is next to Pierpont and recalled his night unfolded.

Latorra said he was enjoying an evening in with friends at Moore — just “chillin’ ” and watching “Family Guy.” Then came the brisk knocks at the door. It was an RA, Latorra said, and she was flustered.

“All I’m saying is (that) something is going on,” she told the students, he recalled. “Don’t leave the room.”

Sirens blared right after the RA left the room, Latorra’s friend Devon Turner added.

“That gets your attention,” he said. “It sounds like someone’s going to drop a nuke on something.”

Then came a text message just minutes later. It was from the university.

“Hostile armed person reported in Pierpont Hall…,” it read.

Latorra looked up at his two friends, he recalled. They received the same alert.

“All our moms were calling us,” Turner said. “It got to (our moms) as quickly as it got to us — only thing is I could look out the window and see the fire trucks.”

Staff writer Stephanie McFeeters contributed reporting.