Last Thursday the community received a suspicious person notification through an e-mail from Campus Safety and Security Director Jean Thorndike. According to the notification, issued by the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), a male driver approached a female pedestrian on Walden Street earlier in the week and asked her for directions and whether she wanted a ride and money. WPD has since identified the man and ascertained that he had no criminal intent.
Following the all-campus e-mail, WPD received three other reports of similar incidents. All four incidents took place on the evening of Tuesday, April 1, and involved the man, described in the notification as “as a Hispanic male between 20-30 years of age, clean shaven with black hair and speaks with a heavy Hispanic accent” in a “white coupe – with an unknown Massachusetts registration,” approaching female College students to ask them for directions.
In some cases, as in the notification, the man offered the students a ride and money. “One student did enter the vehicle and immediately recognized that he was not a Williams College student,” said Sgt. Scott McGowan of the WPD, who is the investigating officer for the case. “She asked him to drop her off, which he did immediately and without incident. He did not become aggressive, never made any threats or got out of the car.”
On Saturday, Chuck Roberts, security patrol supervisor at the College, observed a white two-door hatchback committing a traffic violation on Latham Street. Roberts then informed WPD. A WPD officer stopped the vehicle and identified the driver, who matched the description.
McGowan was alerted of the match and conducted an interview with the man on Monday in Spanish through an interpreter. “We are 100 percent confident that the man was not trying to abduct or commit any other crime against a student or resident,” McGowan said. “There is no reason to believe that his intentions were more than just wanting to talk.” He added that the there was a definite language barrier for the man, a North Adams resident.
Although the WPD found no grounds for charges against the man, Security will post him from campus property.
In an unrelated episode, students alerted Security about two non-College middle-aged males who occupy the Newman Room in Thompson Chapel at various times late at night.
While one of the individuals has been participating in religious services in the Newman Room for several years and is known to several students as well as the chaplain’s office, the other has not yet been identified. Security first received reports on April 2 of the latter, a 5-foot-8-inch stocky Caucasian man in his 40s.
“At this particular time, we have not made any decision about specific action to take against the first man,” Thorndike said. “The College allows non-College individuals to use libraries, computer labs and the Paresky Center, as well as several facilities on campus for events. Most academic buildings and offices are also open during business hours.” She encouraged students to obtain Visitor Identification Passes for any guests staying in their residences.
McGowan emphasized that the incidents were no cause for anxiety or fear, but noted the continual need for vigilance. “We strongly recommend that anybody who finds suspicious persons call us immediately,” he said. “We can respond immediately, which will give us the advantage of observing the behavior ourselves, thus giving faster resolution to the case.” He also commended the students who had tipped WPD for their accuracy and help.
Thorndike was also enthusiastic about the cooperation. “When everyone is invested in the community, shares information and works together, the end result is often positive,” she said. “This is a great example of teamwork.”