Since August, three separate acts of arson have been reported in a single hallway on the fifth floor of Mayer Hall, part of Stouffer College House. The responsible parties have yet to be identified.
“It’s highly unusual,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said of the crimes. “There’s never been a time—I’ve been here 23 years—that we’ve have a series of incidents like these in a college house.”
On Aug. 29, 2016 at 2:08 a.m., a female resident saw a boy holding what Rush described as a “flaming plastic set of cups” in the hallway. When the resident yelled, the suspect dropped the cups and ran.
On Dec. 18, a second incident occurred across the hallway. At 12:30 am, a resident opened her door after hearing a thud outside. She found a gift basket filled with burning candy.
Nearly two months later, on Feb. 10, a male resident smelled smoke at 1:05 am and found a book of burning matches in the hallway.
Fifth floor resident and College senior Peter Moon was in the building during the first incident and smelled smoke coming from the hallway.
“It’s kind of freaky,” Moon said. “We didn’t really know what was going on.”
Though officials are still investigating, the proximity and nature of the crimes has led them to believe that the suspect may be a repeat offender. Rush also noted that the responsible individual would have needed a PennCard on hand in order to access the building.
Moon does not believe the suspect is a resident of the hall.
“It would be pretty weird to me to start a fire in the place that you live,” Moon said.
Penn Police Department’s detective William McCullough, whose investigative skills are “on point” according to Rush, is on the case. McCullough has not been working alone, however.
In order to aid the investigation, Stouffer’s house dean Nadir Sharif distributed "Dear Resident" letters to alert residents after each incident and instructed them to contact McCullough at 215-898-4485 or to submit a Silent Witness Form if they see anything suspicious.
“We need everyone to have good eyes and ears,” Rush said. “You hear something, say something.”’
Sharif met with Penn Police and Residential Services in January. In mid-February, DPS scheduled mandatory information sessions and each floor had hall meetings.
In the event of a fire, DPS instructs residents to follow Penn’s Fire Chief Gene Janda’s advice to “get up, get out, account, stay alive.”