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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Campus thefts spark stress among students

illustration+of+a+grey+backpack
The Hawk Newspaper
GRAPHIC: ALLY ENGELBERT ’25/THE HAWK

A serial thief has allegedly stolen multiple backpacks across the Hawk Hill campus since the beginning of the semester.

There have been nine reported on-campus thefts since the semester officially began Jan. 16, at least six of which were allegedly committed by the same individual, wrote David Finnie, assistant vice president of the Office of Public Safety & Security, in response to written questions from The Hawk.

A majority of the thefts were crimes of opportunity, which “only [take] seconds to commit,” Finnie wrote.

The individual suspected in multiple thefts is allegedly responsible for one theft in Bellarmine Hall, two thefts in Campion Student Center and three thefts in Paris Hall. Public Safety is working with the Philadelphia and Lower Merion police departments to apprehend the thief, Finnie wrote.

“Public Safety and the Philadelphia Police SJU Detail are aware of this individual and are continually on the lookout for him while patrolling their specific security sectors,” Finnie wrote in response to a question about Public Safety’s plan of action to address the thefts.

Other steps include the installation of more access card readers in some locations, reminders to faculty and staff to lock unoccupied classrooms and offices and an alert sent out through The Nest’s Announcements @ SJU page, Finnie wrote.

The alert, sent out Feb. 9, calls upon “the campus community to work together to report suspicious behavior(s) to Public Safety” and provides a list of tips to prevent theft. This alert has also been included in the SJU News email newsletter Feb. 12, Feb. 19 and Feb. 26.

On Feb. 23, Jabez Merritt ’24 left his backpack in the Center for Inclusion and Diversity’s (CID) Pride Lounge while he attended a meeting in the nearby North Lounge. When he returned from the meeting, his backpack was missing.

“I left my bag where it was because I’m always there. It’s normally a safe space,” Merritt said. “There’s been stories of people coming in there. I’ve seen people come in there, but I’ve never had any experience of people having taken stuff. That was jarring.”

Natalie Walker Brown, director for Inclusion and Diversity Educational Achievement (IDEA), was working at the CID when Merritt’s backpack was stolen.

In response to written questions from The Hawk, Walker Brown wrote that the CID will now “keep the front and back doors closed, and only accessible by swipe [indefinitely], or until a permanent solution/decision is identified regarding access to the space.”

Finnie said Public Safety was able to recover Merritt’s backpack, but Finnie did not say how or from where they retrieved it. Finnie also did not clarify whether this theft was committed by the same individual allegedly responsible for multiple other thefts.

Merritt’s Beats headphones and a container of Vaseline were missing from his backpack, but other valuables like his laptop were not taken, Merritt said.

On Feb. 7, the alleged serial thief stole a student’s backpack from the Success Center in Bellarmine Hall, where there are cubbies for students to leave their belongings while they are testing in the Testing Center. 

Students are normally not allowed to bring their belongings into the Testing Center because of the distraction it causes, said Kim Allen-Stuck, Ph.D., assistant vice president of student success and educational support.

Since the theft, however, students have been allowed to bring their belongings into the Testing Center rather than leaving them outside in the cubbies, although the Success Center is looking for alternative solutions, Allen-Stuck said.

“In an ideal situation, the students’ personal items are safe and secure in one spot and the testing location is just testing,” Allen-Stuck said.

Will Nguyen ’24 commutes to campus and utilizes the commuter lounge, where he said he often leaves his personal items. Now, though, he said he always keeps his bag with him or makes sure a friend is watching it if needed.

“As commuters, we don’t really have a place to call our own home. You just use the lounge for that stuff,” Nguyen said. “So the idea that someone could steal bags and get into the commuter lounge that way, just go in, is a little scary now.”

To protect themselves against theft, Finnie suggests students should keep track of personal items at all times, refrain from leaving personal items unattended in clear view in a classroom, office or car and be aware that small items like electronics and wallets are common targets of theft. Any suspicious activity should be reported to Public Safety via phone, web or the SJU Safe app.

Luke Sanelli ’26 contributed to this story.

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Ally Engelbert
Ally Engelbert, Managing Editor
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