The Sarah Lawrence community is accustomed to enjoying a certain amount of privacy and security. Students often take advantage of the campus’s convenient location to go into the city and into surrounding neighborhoods, and they can always come back to the safety of their campus. But rarely do elements of surrounding communities enter SLC’s bubble in any noticeable way.
During the early evening of February 20th, however, a small group of unexpected intruders from a nearby Yonkers neighborhood infiltrated the peaceful campus. Campus safety personnel collaborated with Yonkers police to apprehend the uninvited visitors and a lockdown went into effect. Stuck inside their dorms and in various campus buildings with little information about the situation, students’ imaginations ran wild with speculation.
When College Public Safety officers noticed increased police presence near the campus, a brief email was sent out to all students alerting them of the danger. The initial email/alert text instructing students to remain indoors contained little information, only warning that “Police are actively searching our area for criminals at large.”
For most students, it started as a normal Saturday night. David Miller (‘16) and Annalissa Plumb (‘16) were at the Performing Arts Center watching plays when the lockdown was announced.
“The first thing I thought was that it was a school-shooter situation,” said Miller. Though the student production of Pericles continued uninterrupted, the rumor-mill was churning. “Nobody was exactly sure what was happening...there were some people whispering in the audience.”
Plumb was in a neighboring theatre watching Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them. “It actually added some excitement to the whole thing,” she said. “The actors were actually not phased at all by what was happening.”
The red lights of squad cars, the sounds of police sirens and helicopters whirring overhead stirred up commotion within the dorms. Sofia Seidel (‘17) was leaving Hill House when she received the campus safety text instructing students to stay inside.
“You could hear people having lockdown parties and making food. Nobody seemed too concerned…[My boyfriend’s] roommate thought there was a murderer and he was roaming the hallways looking for his next victim,” said Seidel, describing the scene.
Another email sent after the campus lockdown ended, including more details about the incident. Local news outlets later reported that there had been a stabbing involving a group of teenagers from nearby neighborhoods. Two victims, both 17 years old, were sent to the hospital with stab wounds. Four male suspects fled the scene by car. Their vehicle was pulled over by police near the Mobil gas station on Kimball Avenue, after which the suspects fled by foot. Though three of the suspects were apprehended, the fourth “stabber,” fled towards Sarah Lawrence campus, leading police to search the area.
Larry Hoffman, head of Campus Security and Public Safety, described the protocol for rare occurrences like the February 20th lockdown, saying, “Our Public Safety department was in constant communication with the police. Our officers gave the Yonkers Police officers access to locked areas of the campus and assisted them in searching for the suspects.”
“As with all major incidents, we always do a ‘post mortem’ to look at what could be learned from the incident. This is still underway,” Hoffman commented. “Most people I spoke to about the lockdown said they really appreciated public safety’s efforts that night to keep them safe. They thanked me for having the campus go into lockdown and said they felt very safe with the large police and Public safety presence on campus.”
Campus security guards who were on duty during the lockdown declined to comment.
Within the hour of the lockdown ending, social media was awash with tweets, yaks, and Facebook statuses about “the stabbers.” A threatening image of ‘the stabbers’ was collectively formed via social media and word of mouth: a dangerous knife-wielding adult male wearing a hoodie or a ski mask. Many students remain unaware that the perpetrators were, in reality, young men, likely more afraid than anyone on campus–not hardened criminals.
Komozi Woodard, history professor at Sarah Lawrence, makes a connection between the strange occurrence and the unique geographical location of the SLC campus–situated between the affluent suburban town of Bronxville and the city of Yonkers, with its tumultuous history of social and racial strife, higher poverty rates and higher crime rates.
“It’s a tale of two cities…You always have that town and gown conflict,” said Woodard. Woodard reminds us that the problems that plagued Yonkers are not too far in the past, saying, “White racists used to come up Mead Way here and throw rocks and bottles at inter-racial couples. This was happening as late as the nineties.”
While students reveled in fantasies of stabbers and soaked in the excitement of danger, few seemed concerned with the realities faced by their neighboring communities.
Martin Blondet '16