"It's very unusual," Fred Behr, director of public safety, said. Behr said that based on the short time period and the types of items taken, these burglaries were probably perpetrated by the same people. "I can't say for sure they are connected," Behr said. "But there seems to be some commonality between them."
During the burglary in Mohn Hall, a student returned to her floor to find a young man leaving her room. Behr said that, based on the report that the Public Safety officer on duty later filed, the student questioned the man leaving her room. He claimed to be looking for a friend, and while she was questioning him, a second man walked out of her room. They promptly left as she went inside her room. The student called public safety, and her roommate discovered her digital camera was missing. When public safety arrived, the officer got a description of the two men seen leaving the room. Within 10 minutes the public safety officer searched the building, but found no one matching the description. This burglary occurred at approximately 12:50 p.m.
Early this week seven students reported similar descriptions of two males loitering around residence halls. "We have been pleased with the response by the students," Behr said.
The suspects were described by Behr to be about 17-20 years old, and he said there is a possibility they are not related to St. Olaf in any way.
As the reports began to surface Saturday (the first burglary was not reported until after midnight Saturday), Amy Sweeney, the Area Coordinator on duty, called Pamela McDowell, director of residence life. "When you have three different theft reports in three different buildings it is way too coincidental," McDowell said. She activated the front desk calling tree, telling the front desk workers to put all the residence halls on keycard.
"That was one safeguard we could take," Behr said. McDowell then sent an email to all students explaining the situation. The residence halls were left on keycard until Monday, when the custodians returned. McDowell explained that the custodians tend to be out in the halls and could see anyone loitering around, while students tend to be in their rooms and not as aware.
Residence Life and Public Safety are currently both taking precautions. Public Safety has written up reports and given them to the Northfield Police, who are following up on their own. Public safety officers are also following up, asking students if they observed anyone matching the descriptions of the two men or anyone loitering around residence halls on Friday or Saturday.
McDowell has been updated with the descriptions of the suspects and is passing on all relevant information to the residence life staff. Both Behr and McDowell emphasized the need for students to lock their doors when they leave their rooms, even if they are only going to take a shower. Behr said some of the burglaries occurred in as little time as 10 minutes.
This string of burglaries easily puts St. Olaf above the average eight burglaries per academic year. Behr said that there is no reason to believe that these burglaries are related to burglaries earlier this year.
Two more burglaries were reported Monday that occurred on Saturday. However, the items stolen were recovered and returned to their owners.
Public safety contacted Carleton College this weekend as well to investigate if it had seen a similar string of burglaries.
"They typically don't communicate those sorts of things with us," Behr said.
Carleton had not had any burglaries. The closest incident they reported to St. Olaf public safety was a trespassing violation reported approximately a week before.
As Thanksgiving Break approaches, the absence of many students and staff on campus may be a cause of concern for some.
"Breaks tend to be the times of the year when we are most secure," McDowell said.