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TSU students marked for 'death' 'Assassin' game a hit on campus


The 18-year-old freshman didn't know it, but The Hit Man was following her, plastic bubble gun tucked securely in his jeans.

He slipped into her lecture hall at Towson State University. To his surprise, the professor handed out a physics exam. Not wanting to blow his cover, he took the exam, keeping an eye on his target, Michelle Menditto.

Soon after she finished, he turned in his exam. Now, he thought, she's all mine. But when she left the room, a friend joined her. Excitement turned to frustration. The contract said: No witnesses.

The Hit Man and 50 other students are playing a popular college game called "Assassin," in which each student is given a contract to "kill" another. A kill is made by touching the victim with a bubble gun.

"We didn't want to make it a game of physical skills," said Pat Anderson, the game's organizer. "It's more of a game of strategy and the gun is just there to symbolize shots."

Once a participant is killed, the assassin takes over the victim's contracts. The game is set up so that only the last two people get contracts to kill each other. At that point the game ends, and the survivors are declared the winners.

The building council that organizes activities for Ward and West halls, two adjacent dormitories, started the game as a way for students to meet each other.

"It has brought a lot of people together," said Mr. Anderson, a 22-year-old senior, who sits on the council. "You're forced to become close because you need people to be with you [so that you're not alone]."

Each student paid $2 to enter the game. Half of the money went to buy the weapons. The other half will go toward the prizes.

Because of the "no-witness" rule, assassins often trail their targets until they are alone. Victims cannot be shot when they are asleep or when they have both feet inside a bathroom.

However, since there is no instant replay, Mr. Anderson decides whether a kill is valid.

Since the game began two weeks ago, 34 students have been terminated.

Charles Maloy, Towson's associate vice president for student services, said he knew of no problems that the game had caused. "It's one more thing students do when they need to reduce tension," Dr. Maloy said. "It also seems to tap into some of the competitiveness students often demonstrate in the classroom or wherever else."

Ryan Tansey, a 19-year-old sophomore-gone-bad, is the leading assassin, with eight kills. To get Bryant Cummings, he had a mutual female friend call the young man and ask him to open the front entrance of West Hall for her.

Mr. Cummings left his room unlocked, saw no one at the entrance and returned to find Mr. Tansey lurking behind his door.

Mr. Cummings was "buried" in the official Assassin cemetery, on the wall outside Mr. Anderson's room. Paper tombstones, with epitaphs written by Mr. Anderson, cover the wall. Mr. Cummings' reads: "He tried very hard not to be alone, but his biggest mistake was answering the phone."

The game has been played before at Towson State and at other colleges, but the cemetery is an original idea, Mr. Anderson said.

"The cemetery makes it a lot more fun," said The Hit Man, who is still working on his first kill. "You read it every day and find out who else has been killed and how it happened."

As long as he stays alive, The Hit Man has a chance of winning the game. But staying alive is no easy task. Just ask Jackie Sugrue, an 18-year-old freshman.

She had four kills and had been careful not to be alone. Then she misplaced her gun and walked up the stairs of her dorm to look for it. "A girl came from behind, touched me with her gun and said, 'You're dead,' Ms. Sugrue said. "I thought she was joking and I screamed. I was really upset because I wanted to win."

Some assassins have resorted to intimidating their targets.

"Don't deliver to the wrong door," warned letters clipped from women's magazines pasted on a note that was slipped into the room of a student who works part time delivering sandwiches for a Towson shop.

The Hit Man, whose cover would be blown if his name were disclosed, has been calling Ms. Menditto and recounting his every move.

"I just whisper into the phone, telling her that I'm in some of her classes and that I know her schedule," he said. "I think she may be afraid it's not a game anymore."

Ms. Menditto is surprised The Hit Man knows so much about her.

"He told me one of the questions on my exam and where I sat during the exam," she said. "It was awfully strange because there's no one from our dorms in that class. If it wasn't for this game, it would be scary."

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