'Hit list' story prompts theft of 1,300 newspapers, student editor says

PENNSYLVANIA –Westminster College officials are investigating two students in connection withthe theft of more than a thousand copies of the student newspaper earlier thismonth.

The school would not release the students’ names, butDean of Student Affairs Neal Edman said they are being charged with ”abridgment of freedom of speech.” No criminal charges have beenfiled against the students, he said.

The newspaper staff is scheduledto meet with the publications board Monday to decide whether or not to presscharges, said Co-Editor in Chief Colin Dean.

”More than likelywe won’t,” he said of pressing charges. ”We feel that it wouldbe more fitting for [the person(s)] to write a letter of apology and thenwe’ll publish it in the newspaper.”

On March 3, 1,500copies of The Holcad were delivered toseveral on-campus locations at around 7 a.m. By 10 a.m., the papers were gone,Dean said.

Two hundred of the papers were found in a recycling binand Dean said that staff members would distribute those issuestoday.

”We know that [1,500] is the maximum amount thatcould’ve been taken,” Dean said. ”But the actual amount isprobably somewhere closer to about 1,300.”

Dean said it cost around $1,700 to print the issue.

Dean suspects the theft was inresponse to the newspaper’s coverage of a story involving a student who had beencaught with a ”hit list” in his dorm room. An article and aneditorial on the ”hit list” appeared in the stolen issue.

The hit list included 13 stick figures — eachrepresenting a different student — with their faces perforated by pelletsfrom an air rifle and derogatory sentences scribbled underneath, according to anarticle in The Holcad. Neither the article nor an accompanying editorial named the student.

Dean said the editorial in the stolen issue highlighted a public safety issue andcriticized the school’s handling of the situation.

The studentwho created the hit list kept an air rifle, which the university gives a toy gunstatus, and two hunting knives in his dorm room, the student newspaper reported.Both the hit list and the school’s policy on weapons are examples that theschool is not being proactive in regards to the safety of its students, Deansaid.

But Edman, dean of student affairs, disagrees.

”I think it’s misleading and inappropriate tosay that,” Edman said of Dean’s criticism. ”We had a verythorough and immediate investigation. Our job is to make sure the safety of ourstudents is not at stake. Our public safety officers investigated and found no[threat].”

Edman questioned the newspaper’s handling ofthe story and said the student publications board would be reviewing thesituation.

”In my opinion the paper’s articles wereincendiary and they inflamed innuendo and hysteria,” Edman said.

”The paper’s journalism expertise is being called intoquestion.”

But Edman said that neither the university nor thepublications board are ”looking to censor” the studentnewspaper.

”I think this will be a learning experience for allinvolved. The college is further exploring what it will and will not allow oncampus in regards to toy guns,” Edman said. ”It’s a cause for further examination.”