Reported burglary at College Towers causes ‘panic’ on social media

Rex Santus

Kent police responded to a reported burglary at College Towers just after midnight Monday. Two suspects “reportedly assaulted” the resident, but no weapons were seen, according to a news release.

At 11:58 p.m. Sunday, Kaleigh Dease, junior integrated health studies major, tweeted: “Please be careful if you are on campus right now! There are 2 men, dressed in black, wearing masks with guns.”

As of 4 p.m., there were 123 retweets on that Twitter post. Dease’s tweet and hundreds of others like it caused a stir of information and misinformation about the events at College Towers.

“I was across the office but heard on the security’s radio that there were men dressed in dark clothes and wearing masks,” Dease, who works at the Twin Towers front desk, said in a prepared statement. Security then locked the door and told Dease that the men had a gun, she said.

That might be incorrect, however, according to a police incident report.

“I didn’t mean for my tweet to cause any undue concern, but I figured people on campus should be aware just in case,” Dease said.

She wasn’t the only one who wanted to warn others. “Everyone be careful. 2 men with masks on and guns around campus,” @KsuTips tweeted.

Others tweeted that the media were lying when they later said no gun was found and to believe the initial reports, and another tweet said that people needed to stay indoors and not answer the door.

University spokesman Eric Mansfield said tweets like these caused unnecessary anxiety on campus.

“When people see this, that could be the trigger that leads to the panic,” Mansfield said.

At about 12:30 a.m., panic intensified, Mansfield said. Although the city was handling the investigation, Kent State police received more than 100 phone calls in 45 minutes from “parents, students and media.”

This “completely overwhelmed” dispatchers, he said, and interfered with campus police’s ability to function effectively as well as respond to emergencies.

Twitter users criticized university officials, who didn’t send out a Flash Alert — a campus warning text message — until about 80 minutes after speculation erupted on social media. That’s because Flash Alerts aren’t sent out unless information is verified, Mansfield said.

“We want people to be responsible on social media,” Mansfield said. “If you didn’t see something, don’t say you did.”

Sydney Palek, junior integrated health studies major, said she was one of the many people tweeting about College Towers early Monday morning.

“BTW the 2 gunmen aren’t dressed in black anymore, police found their clothes & a mask,” one of her Twitter posts said.

Palek said she heard that information from her cousin, who works for campus security.

Palek doesn’t regret tweeting about the incident, and she thinks student comments on social media had some positive effects.

“I think it caused a panic, but had I not found out otherwise, what if something would have happened?” Palek said. “I was at the library at night. I was waiting for everything to die down. I was by myself.”

Lt. Jim Prusha of the Kent Police Department said social media, from his understanding, have not significantly affected the city’s investigation of the reported burglary.

“If people want to get all in an uproar about something posted (online), that’s on them,” Prusha said.

Contact Rex Santus at [email protected].