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Washington College shut down as police look for student facing gun charges

Washington College tells students and staff to leave campus

CHESTERTOWN — Washington College ordered students to leave the campus Tuesday as police continued to look for a student who his family says may be armed with a rifle.

Jacob Marberger, 19, had initially been considered a missing person, but police disclosed Tuesday that he's facing criminal charges in connection with an Oct. 9 incident in which he allegedly showed a pistol to classmates at the Eastern Shore school.

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The news came as the college sent students and staff home Tuesday afternoon and announced the campus would remain closed Wednesday — the third straight day without classes.

Marberger has been missing since early Monday, when his parents told police he went to their home in the Philadelphia suburbs and retrieved a gun case that may have had a rifle in it. The campus was closed Monday, and students were kept in their dorm rooms or in a dining hall all day.

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On Tuesday, the college began to reopen in the morning, but quickly shut down again. By afternoon, college officials ordered all students to leave campus.

The sophomore is charged in the October incident with having a dangerous weapon on school property, possession of a firearm by a minor, handgun possession and possession of a prohibited weapon, said Chief Adrian Baker of the Chestertown Police Department.

All of the charges are misdemeanors.

Though Marberger has not made any specific threat against the college or its students, officials said they felt shutting down the campus was a necessary step to ensure safety.

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"He obviously is a troubled young man. We hope he comes home," said college President Sheila Bair.

Bair said the decision whether to reopen campus will be made "day to day."

A woman who answered the phone at the Marberger residence Tuesday declined to comment.

Police in Pennsylvania and Maryland continued to search for Marberger. Hours after leaving his parents' home Monday, a cellphone signal was picked up near a Cabela's outdoors store in Hamburg, Pa., according to police in Cheltenham Township in Pennsylvania. The phone was then shut off, and Marberger hasn't been seen or heard from since, police said late Tuesday.

Marberger is described as a white male with brown hair, about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds. He may be driving a green 1997 Range Rover with Pennsylvania license plates JWY-5876. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call police.

Campus officials described Marberger as an active member of the school community. Jerry Roderick, chief of campus public safety, called him a "respected" member of the Student Government Association, where he served as speaker of the senate.

Yet an investigation was launched after officials received a tip Oct. 23 that alleged Marberger had brought a gun to the school earlier in the month and shown it to classmates. School officials conducted a "periphery search" of his room in Cecil Hall but did not find a gun. More tips came several days later, and public safety officials found the gun in an off-campus apartment. They turned the investigation over to Chestertown police Oct. 29.

Marberger was then asked to leave campus and required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation — which he passed — before returning to campus a week ago, Roderick said.

Bair said Marberger was still facing disciplinary action by the college's Honor Board, which could have included suspension or expulsion. Officials said he also was kicked out of his fraternity and resigned Sunday from his position with the student government.

Officials said he has had some problems with other students — they described an incident in which a trash can filled with water was placed against his dorm room's door so it would empty into his room when he opened the door.

For Chestertown, a community of about 5,300 residents, the events of the past two days have seemed surreal.

On Tuesday afternoon, the college was quiet and empty, save for a landscaping crew.

Police stood guard at many entrances to the campus.

It's been tough to see a beloved institution deal with such a tense situation, said Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino. Many residents attended Washington College or have relatives or friends who did. The town embraces the college students who bring "youth and vitality" to the community, which has become a destination for retirees, Cerino said.

Washington College helps make Chestertown a "unique small town," Cerino said. "It's a central part of who we are, really."

Washington College has about 1,450 students and claims to be the first college chartered in the newly independent United States. George Washington donated 50 guineas to help found the college and served on its board of visitors and governors, according to the college's website.

As students were evacuated from the campus Tuesday, about 50 — including some international students — were not able to travel home, so officials arranged off-campus housing for them.

Michael O'Connor, associate vice president for college relations and marketing, said when the call went out for hosts for students ordered to leave, the college received a flood of responses. All of the students were placed in homes off campus, many with faculty members and college employees, he said.

"We had a lot more offers of space than we needed," O'Connor said.

Town officials said they weren't surprised that residents opened their doors to students needing a place to stay.

"That's typical Chestertown," said town manager Bill Ingersoll. "Everybody's glad to help."

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