WJZ learns the FBI has joined the search for a missing Washington College student, who may be armed and dangerous. Now, the school decides to stay closed for the next week and a half. Mike Hellgren reports.
CHESTERTOWN — Washington College has canceled classes through the Thanksgiving break as the search continues for a missing former student leader who might be armed.
In a statement sent to students and posted online Wednesday, college President Sheila Bair said she made the decision to keep the school closed through Thanksgiving "based on continuing consultations with law enforcement."
The missing student, 19-year-old sophomore Jacob Marberger, has made no direct threats toward the college or its students, officials said, but the campus was closed as a precautionary measure. He hasn't been seen since early Monday, when police say he went to his parents' house and took a gun case that might have had a gun in it.
Richie Torres, a sophomore from Silver Spring, said he's worried about Marberger. Both lived in Cecil Hall and are in the same circle of friends.
"We're just hoping and praying for the safety of Jacob," said Torres.
Police offered no new information Wednesday in the search. Chestertown police officials referred inquiries to the college, and police in Marberger's hometown of Cheltenham Township, Pa., did not respond to requests for comment.
With classes canceled since Monday, college spokesman Michael O'Connor said, it made sense to keep students off campus through the Thanksgiving break.
College officials continue to review the situation daily, O'Connor said, but it would have been difficult to open up classes and bring students back only to wind down again for the holiday. The Thanksgiving break was scheduled to start this Wednesday and run through the following Sunday.
The liberal arts college in Chestertown has about 1,450 undergraduates. The campus was quiet Wednesday, with just a couple of construction and landscaping crews working under gray skies. Police were no longer guarding campus entrances, as they did earlier in the week.
"Outside of a few essential personnel and public safety officers, there isn't anyone on campus," O'Connor said.
Torres, Marberger's friend, said he was surprised by the decision to keep the campus closed through Thanksgiving, but he said he trusts that college officials are making the right decision.
Police and campus officials said Marberger had problems with classmates in recent weeks and is facing misdemeanor charges after allegedly showing a gun to classmates last month. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
As a result of that incident, Marberger was dismissed from his fraternity, resigned from a leadership position in student government, and was facing suspension or expulsion from the college.
Marberger was sent home and was required to pass a psychiatric evaluation before he was allowed to return to campus about a week ago, college officials said. His parents told police in Cheltenham Township that he had been despondent over his problems at college.
Marberger hasn't been seen or heard from since Monday. A signal from his cellphone was picked up Monday morning near an outdoors store in Hamburg, Pa., according to Cheltenham Township police. The phone was then turned off.
Torres said Marberger "is a phenomenal individual who is nothing but supportive and nice to everyone he meets. ... He's a great kid."
Washington College students have been supporting one another, Torres said, offering each other rides home and keeping spirits up during a difficult time. The close-knit student body is becoming even closer, he said.
"I can't imagine attending another school," he said.
College officials said about 50 students who have not been able to get home — including international students — have been moved off campus, in some cases into the homes of college employees.
Emily Cross-Barnet, a junior from Baltimore, said she's seen students and faculty looking out for each other.
"You realize how much of a family the school is," she said. "We all feel supported."
Cross-Barnet, an environmental studies major, said she's disappointed that she'll be missing a trip around the Eastern Shore to learn about agricultural policy. But she said she understands the need to keep students safe.
"I completely trust the administration is making the right decision for our safety. ... I'm glad everyone is safe," she said, adding, "I hope Jacob is safe."
Marberger is described by police as a white male with brown hair, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds. He could be driving a green 1997 Range Rover with Pennsylvania license plates JWY-5876. Anyone with information is asked to call police.