By Fruma Landa and Temmi Lattin
At 11:25 a.m. on Friday, December 20, 2019, an email from Yeshiva University Campus Security notified the Beren Campus about an event that occurred that morning:
“Early this morning there was an incident at the Schottenstein Residence Hall, and some of you may have heard the fire alarm. The situation was quickly brought under control by responding NYPD and FDNY personnel. An arrest was made and Security is working with the NYPD on next steps. The safety of our students is of our utmost concern and there is no current threat to our residence hall or the campus.”
Many students were not satisfied with this email. Residents of Schottenstein expressed having undergone a traumatic experience and wanted to know what transpired in their residence hall. At the time of the initial email, concerns surrounding students’ safety were raised, as a fire alarm, which usually functions as an alarm for evacuation, was triggered during what was actually a break-in.
Leora Feder, SSSB ‘20, commented to the YU Observer: “I was awoken around 4:00 [a.m.] by an alarm and in my disorientation I assumed it was my alarm clock. We have not had any fire drills this semester, so I did not know what the alarm sounds like. Then only after it going on and off for a half-hour there was an announcement to stay in our rooms. We did not know that it was the police or fire department or anyone other than YU security, and that it was not a glitch with the system. No one was communicative about what was going on… I view this as a failure on the [u]niversity’s part in ensuring the safety of students and letting us know what is going on.”
Almost 24 hours after major new outlets such as The New York Times and CNN published stories about the incident with further information, YU Campus Security sent an update to all YU students and parents of undergraduates, addressing the media coverage:
“As you may have seen today, several media outlets covered the story of an intruder causing a fire in the Schottenstein dorm. On Friday morning at 3:45am an intruder approached our Security team at Schottenstein Residence Hall asking for help. The Security team immediately called 911 and did not let him into the building. The intruder kicked through the glass door, entered the building and ran to the back lounge where he set a small fire with toilet paper. The fire was extinguished immediately by the sprinkler system and the NYPD and FDNY were on site within minutes of the initial call. A fire alarm went off and residents were instructed to stay in their rooms; after the intruder was arrested and the FDNY cleared the room, an all-clear announcement was issued. This is an ongoing investigation but NYPD has concluded this was not a hate crime and the intruder is being charged with arson along with breaking and entering. There is no current threat to our campuses[…]”
After finding out what actually occurred through various news websites on Saturday night, students were shocked and appalled that they were not notified about the apparent danger they were in from YU Security themselves soon after the incident.
Schottenstein resident Chana Ingber, SCW ‘20, expressed: “I hate that my main source of information has been a newspaper article… Over the next 24 hours [following the break-in] we received bits of information that went from ‘the door just broke’ to ‘there was an intruder and also a small fire at the same time which is why the FDNY came.’ The fact that I had to learn from the [New York Times]that the events were connected is infuriating. As an out-of-towner, the dorm is my home and now I don’t feel safe in my home.”
Sara Knoll, SCW ‘21, echoed this sentiment: “As a Schottenstein resident, I am very upset at YU for not letting us know the details about a terrifying incident that took place where I and many other students live. It is incredibly frustrating that I learned more of the details from a New York Times article.”
The security footage published by The New York Times, received from the New York City Fire Department, shows a person, identified by a New York fire marshal as Peter Weyand, kicking and cracking the front door of Schottenstein Residence Hall at 3:44 a.m. The person appears to walk away for a minute, pausing the kicking before resuming a little more than a minute later, ultimately opening the bottom glass panel and crawling through. After entering the building, the suspect stands up by the security desk, appearing to talk to someone for a few seconds, picks up and puts down a phone, and then walks into a back room of the building. There are no signs of security intervention or action throughout this video clip. It has been reported that after leaving the entryway, the suspect set a couple of small fires, which is what assumingly triggered the fire alarm. Many students have said that they feel unsafe and disappointed with the way this incident was handled.
“…[W]here is security in the video? We see the man attempting to break down the door for a while. He even walks away and comes back again. Then he actually gets into the building and goes to the desk. And we see him pick up a phone. Where is security? This is extremely concerning and frustrating… I understand that things happen but I’m extremely disappointed with the school and how they dealt with this situation,” remarked a Schottenstein resident to the YU Observer.
In a similar vein, Ingber continued: “[T]he whole experience was absolutely terrifying, and personally I don’t think it was handled well by school personnel. There was minimal to no information given to students during the event – as you can see the clip is at 3:44 [a.m.] and we didn’t receive texts from [resident advisors] (not their fault, they also had no info) until 4:19, and official information from security and the police over the loudspeaker came after that. We were simply told by students who went down to investigate to stay in our rooms and lock the doors.”
At the time of publication, YU Security did not respond to requests for comments.
Photo: Suspect being arrested by NYPD at 4:09 AM, 24 minutes after the break-in began.
Photo Source: Courtesy of Schottenstein Hall resident and Stern student