Sophomore Isabella De Jong was in her Colonnades neighborhood dorm room with the door closed, doing homework on her bed. When the door swung open, De Jong said she remembers feeling excited because her friends and roommates typically barge in to visit.
A woman who De Jong did not know walked into her room and calmly said she was looking for Hannah — one of her roommates. De Jong told her this was not Hannah’s room, and Hannah wasn’t home at the time.
Though she didn’t think anything of it at first, after a few seconds, De Jong said she had a strange feeling and walked out into her living room. Only one of her roommates was home at the time, who also came out to the living room because she heard talking.
De Jong saw the woman leave Hannah’s room and asked what she was doing and what was going on.
“She was like, ‘Oh, I'm here to tell Hannah,’ — and then she mumbled something — ‘and her sister is in the hospital, and I need to tell her that,’’’ De Jong said. “First of all, Hannah doesn’t have a sister.”
The woman then said “they” told her this was Hannah’s room. De Jong and her roommate asked who “they” were and asked for the last name of the Hannah she was looking for. She said she was looking for Hannah Smith.
De Jong’s roommate is Hannah Parsons. After De Jong and her roommates looked at Elon’s student directory online, they found out there are no Hannah Smiths that attend Elon. The woman left after the roommates confronted her, and the two called campus police after confirming nothing was missing from their rooms.
On March 22, Elon University Campus Safety and Police responded to the report from De Jong and her roommate regarding a suspicious person in the Colonnades Neighborhood at Moffitt Hall. According to the incident reported, a Black woman unwarrantedly entered the student’s dorm room, “claiming she needed to relay a message to someone.” De Jong told Elon News Network the woman appeared to be middle-aged.
Both De Jong and Parsons said they are concerned about the possible security risks and measures that may come into play with the ease of access that people who don’t belong on campus have.
According to the report, the woman entered seven rooms on the first, second and third floors of Moffitt Hall — with nine students affected, in addition to De Jong and her three roommates. Eight of the nine students reported similar incidents during the police’s investigation at Moffitt of the same woman needing “to relay a message to someone.” No threats, assaults or thefts were reported as a result of the incident.
De Jong found out from her resident adviser that the woman had entered other people’s rooms claiming she was looking for her son.
According to De Jong, the woman was able to walk into the dorm because they left the door unlocked. Although she and her roommates do usually lock it, De Jong said they left it open because two of them were home and they didn’t feel it was necessary.
As of March 31, the woman has not been identified and Chief of Campus Safety and Police Joe LeMire told Elon News Network in an email that there was no new information in the case and no additional reported incidents. He also wrote that it is unknown why she was there.
“This lady now knows the layout of our entire dorm, she knows our faces, she knows who lives here,” De Jong said. “That's a little unsettling just knowing that someone's out there with the information about us and our dorm.”
LeMire also told Elon News Network in an email there is no camera footage of the incident, as “one camera was down” and Information Technology is in the process of either repairing or replacing it.
“It could have been a lot more serious and unpleasant than it was, and just to think that it could have happened that way — or it could happen like that again, since it was so easy for her to do that — that's a little concerning,” De Jong said.
Hannah Parsons, an Elon sophomore, was studying at the library at the time of the incident and received a text from De Jong telling her that a woman was in her room looking for her. Parsons said she did not find out the extent of the situation until she came home. When she did, Parsons said she was shocked.
“It felt a little surreal because we always talked about, we’re on the first floor, we’re one of the first pods too, so we’re always like, ‘Oh we should lock our door, it could be dangerous because of our circumstances,’” Parsons said. “You never think that something like that is going to happen to you till it happens, and you're like, ‘Damn, we're not that safe as we think we are.’”
Concerns for community and country
In light of the Nashville shooting, Parsons also said the incident made her greatly concerned about how easy it would be for someone to walk into buildings on campus with a weapon.
“Somebody, anybody, can just come in at any moment, even in ... academic buildings,” Parsons said. “With the shootings going on, on college campuses and at middle schools, it's a possibility it could happen to us.”
In regard to the Nashville shooting, LeMire said very few, if any, active violent events occur without law enforcement going back after the fact and finding someone who knew what was going to happen and could have intervened to prevent it. Therefore, LeMire encouraged people to reach out and share information with any concerns.
Elon’s threat assessment team, which is composed of university police officers, housing individuals, conduct personnel, student life staff and counseling professionals, also works to catch and prevent incidents before they happen.
“I wait for the details to come out … so we can take that information after the fact and build it into our training in order to make our own areas safer,” LeMire said. “But on the front end, we really have to concentrate on the victims and their families and make sure that they're taken care of.”
According to LeMire, Campus Safety and Police offers on-site active shooter training upon request from any student, faculty or staff members who want it. LeMire also emphasized that whether a group of five, 10 or 100 people sign up, campus police are more than willing to participate. Participants do not have to be a part of a formal organization on campus.
In active shooter training, LeMire said campus police will talk about different ways to prevent incidents, respond to situations and teach methods for improvising weapons, covering and concealing oneself and securing and locking doors. By using photos of specific places on campus, training attendees can also be prepared with realistic attention to detail.
“In an active shooter, there's no specific, one plan. It really depends. Where does it occur? What is happening? And are you in a position to avoid it, or deny them entry to where you are? Or do you have to defend yourself based on what's going on?” LeMire said.
For more information on or scheduling an active shooter training, call the office of Campus Safety and Police at (336) 278-5555 or email Community Patrol Sgt. Joel Thomas and LeMire at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
In the event that someone is on campus with malicious intent, Parsons said she would feel more comfortable if Elon added more safety and security measures on campus. To her, this would come in the forms of more Phoenix Card locks, in which people would have to swipe to have access, and more Blue Lights — emergency phone systems on campus marked with blue lights that offer a direct line to campus police.
“I feel like we're kind of in a little bubble here at Elon, and we're safe for the most part, but you never really know what's going to happen,” Parsons said.
According to LeMire, Elon has 36 outdoor Blue Light Phones primarily found in parking lots, 48 emergency phones found inside buildings and stairwells and 52 emergency elevator phones.
Yet, LeMire said he is not an advocate for adding more Blue Light Phones, but rather for placing them strategically around campus where people might need them most — such as in parking lots — as a back-up plan.
Instead, he advocated for more widespread use of the Rave Guardian app, or Rave Mobile Safety, in which students can discreetly contact Campus Safety and Police, share their GPS location, receive targeted mobile notifications and wellness checks and access phone numbers for local first responders and campus services. The app also has 24-hour dispatch and users can submit anonymous tips and resources at any time.
Both Parsons and De Jong emphasized a need for increased awareness among the student body about who they let into dorm buildings.
“I think we forget how close we are to the actual town of Elon,” De Jong said. “Elon is such a bubble, and just kind of forgetting that there are other people around us that we don't know, and that could very easily — and have — just strolled into Elon. … Anyone will let anyone into a building for the most part, especially residence halls because people come in and out of those all the time.”
The report does not state how the woman entered the building, although De Jong said she thinks someone likely held the door open for her.
In response to adding more Phoenix Card locks around campus, LeMire said roughly 60% to 70% of locks on campus are card activated — but Elon’s older infrastructure isn’t able to feasibly support increasing that number to 100%.
Despite their desire for increased security measures, both Parsons and De Jong said they were very pleased with the manner and response time in which campus police responded to the situation. Moving forward, they said they will both be locking their individual bedroom doors, as well as the door to the dorm.
“It's definitely been on my mind a lot more with the recent shooting in Nashville. … Right now, I think about it when I'm in dining halls or other academic spaces. I'm like, ‘It could happen to me right now,’ and I look for an exit — I watch the entrance,” Parsons said. “I think it's a real thing that we all need to acknowledge and actually take action on because of everything that's happening in the U.S.”
Miranda Ferrante contributed to the reporting of this story.