December 15, 2003

String of Break-ins Plague Cascadilla

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A series of break-ins has upset life in Cascadilla Hall, where three female students’ rooms were broken into over Thanksgiving break, sparking anger and fear among residents. According to an e-mail sent to the Cascadilla community by Scott Helfrich, the residence hall director, there is no evidence that the rooms were forcibly entered, and very little was taken from the rooms.

In a subsequent e-mail sent to Cascadilla residents and obtained by The Sun, Helfrich reported that one of the women whose room was entered, Marsha Lien ’04, requested that certain information about her case be shared. The e-mail explained that although “almost nothing was taken from the room,” Lien “found that her bed and pillow had been urinated on and the comforter pulled back over the mattress to conceal this situation.”

According to Lien, she first noticed that something was wrong as she came back to her room Sunday night after break. Lien said that she saw that the door was crooked, and when she entered her room she found that the door had been unlocked and the lights turned on. When she asked her resident advisor if anyone had been in her room, her R.A. — who had heard of two similar cases — asked her to check her bed. Lien lifted her comforter to find a “huge stain.”

“First I did not know what the hell it was,” Lien said, explaining that the previous cases had included instances where the perpetrator had ejaculated in the room.

Because the Cornell University Police Department is conducting an investigation into the break-ins, information is limited. Helfrich warned in his e-mail that “some information will remain confidential and not be inclusive of the full situation.” Linda Grace-Kobas, interim vice president for communications and media relations, did say however that “it doesn’t appear that robbery was the prime motive.”

Adam Brown ’04, whose friend lived in one of the invaded rooms, said that residents in Cascadilla continue to remain frightened by the break-ins. He said that one of his friends, an R.A., moved out for about one and a half weeks and only recently moved back in.

“Once R.A.s start moving out of dorms, it’s a really bad sign,” Brown said.

Brown reported that his friend whose room had been entered went home because of the incident. His friend, whom he said was “pretty shaken up about it,” asked not to be contacted.

Brown and Lien both expressed extreme disappointment with the authorities’ response to the incidents.

“I’m not very happy with [the response],” Lien said. “They’re very hush-hush.” She also said that the CUPD in particular were very unclear to her in regards to the other incidents.

“I think that everyone should know,” she said.

“Many of my friends that live there are worried that the police are doing little to protect them and to protect the evidence, and many feel they are not safe staying there,” Brown wrote in an e-mail to The Sun.

The CUPD continue to conduct an investigation and “have asked that people keep their eyes open” for suspicious behavior, according to Grace-Kobas. She added that authorities are working with Campus Life, but both she and Helfrich said they cannot comment on the investigation because it is ongoing.

Helfrich wrote in one of his e-mails that authorities were not yet sure how the perpetrator entered the rooms, but that “no master keys for the community have been reported missing to the knowledge of Cornell University Police or Community Development.”

Helfrich said that although residents in Cascadilla are more cautious of letting strangers into the hall, he felt that the general atmosphere “is not that different from last year at this time.” Lien, however, said that she and many of her friends are “scared shitless” and will not sleep in their rooms over the weekends. She said that her floor is especially cautious both because it is the first floor — a high traffic area — and also because most of the residents there are female.

Lien expressed frustration that Campus Life would not let her or other residents install deadbolts in their rooms, but said that she plans on installing one anyway. She also said that many of her friends push furniture against their doors at night as an added precaution and that she has taken to going to sleep with a knife.

According to Grace-Kobas, the CUPD have not yet identified any suspects. She also could not predict what punishments the perpetrator would eventually face if caught, as that would largely depend on charges brought. Grace-Kobas further explained that because new evidence and information from questioning often arises once a criminal has been apprehended, it is too soon to know yet what the charges will be.

Helfrich and Kobas have asked anyone with information about the break-ins to contact the CUPD at 255-1111.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit