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Students Safe after Tragedy close to Campus

Used with permission from Tribune Review

by Kyle Holland

On October 1, Ryan Senko, 22, bought a firearm. Senko made threats against his own life and the life of his ex-girlfriend, then his mother went to state police with a mental-health warrant for her son.

According to a news release by State Trooper Stephen Limani, Senko was “actively seeking [his ex-girlfriend].” Senko showed up at Westmoreland Mall, where his ex-girlfriend works, and demanded to see her. Senko’s ex-girlfriend currently resides in Selene House.

Senko was headed to Pitt-Greensburg when he was seen and followed by campus police. Limani stated, “the pursuit started at The Pitt at Greensburg Campus located off Mt. Pleasant Rd.,” which is one-half mile from campus. Campus police let authorities know where he was. State troopers got involved in the chase, and campus police returned to Pitt-Greensburg.

The chase lasted approximately 15 minutes and ended at Quarry St., near the suspect’s home. Senko fired at police, then committed suicide. There were several bullet holes in the windshield of a police car. Senko is survived by his two parents and his brother, who goes to Pitt-Greensburg.

Photo of suspect, Ryan Senko - courtesy of The Tribune Review

Photo of suspect, Ryan Senko – courtesy of The Tribune Review

Pitt-Greensburg President, Sharon Smith, said, “we just want to wrap our arms around everyone who’s feeling the grief. Believe me, we were all devastated when it ended the way it did.”

At 5:30 p.m., a police officer informed Jake Giffen, the community assistant (C.A.) of Selene House, what the situation was. “State police were walking around parking lots around Academic Village,” Giffen said. “They walked until around 10 p.m.”

A friend told Jessica Marburger, a student-resident of Selene House, what the situation was. “There should have been an alert to have people stay in their rooms,” Marburger said. “I’d rather be nervous in my room, knowing what’s going on, than [outside] not know what’s going on.”

The Clery Act states, “schools must immediately alert the campus community of a ‘significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff occurring on campus.’”

“We decided not to send an emergency notification to the students,” Smith said. “I have to make that decision, based on the advice of our security people. The threat was not directed against the campus, and there are certain risks and other consequences when you issue an emergency notification. First of all: Will students get it? Everybody has cell phones, but if you’re in a dead zone, you don’t get it. If students get it, will they follow the instructions? . . . Will you have 200 parents at the gate trying to take their child home? So we decided, because the threat was not directed against the campus, an emergency notification was not necessary.”

Chief Dale Blasko was in direct communication with President Smith during the incident. He helped to inform her of updates and advise her in the situation.

Blasko stated, “it was reported that the young man had experienced some extreme distress” and that Senko “apparently made threats against himself and others.”

When asked if he knew who the people were that Senko had made threats against, Blasko said, “No. That was a very serious unknown question.”

When asked if he knew whether Senko had a firearm with him, Blasko said, “Yes. We believed he had a firearm.”

Ryan Senko had been charged with harassment and harassment by communication, on August 27, 2014, at 1:00 p.m., at Selene House. The police log states, “female student reports harassment from ex-lover, who is a non-student. Ryan Michael Senko. Persona non grata issued.” When a persona non grata is issued, that person is not allowed on campus.

Blasko was asked if knowing the facts that the suspect was issued the “persona non grata” status, that this person had a firearm, and that he previously harassed a student—his ex-girlfriend at Selene House—in addition to the fact that he made threats against his own life and others, would constitute a “dangerous situation.” Blasko stated, “A dangerous situation [was] wherever the young man was.”

When asked if he felt Senko’s presence would have presented a “dangerous situation” to campus, Blasko said, “[w]ell, had he come to campus, yes.”

“We know, for fact, in general, that when people are stressed and intend to commit suicide, they can, in fact, injure other people as they try to kill themselves,” Smith said.

Smith went on to say, “[we wanted] more police officers of our own and the state police there, as well. More eyes. Not guns. Eyes.”

There were state troopers outside Selene House, acting as sentries, police cars positioned at the entrances to campus, and police patrolling on foot.

Blasko said, “I would like to tell Pitt-Greensburg campus that nobody is more cognizant of safety than I am. . . . I don’t believe that safety was compromised for a minute on October 1. I was here personally to see to it that it wasn’t compromised. It was not.”

President Smith wanted the campus to know that counseling has been made available to all students. “Everybody handles things differently,” she said. “There may be other students on campus who knew him. And the natural feeling after this is to feel guilt, when there shouldn’t be. You think, ‘if only I’d said hello,’ or ‘if only I’d said, “How are you doing?” You want to make it better, and you can’t make it better, and that’s the most tragic thing of all.”

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