By Sam Colt
The Mather Residence Hall was evacuated due to “deliberately set” fires at 12:29 a.m. Oct. 8, according to an email sent from Campus Safety later that day. The primary suspect, Joey Allen ’14, a McBride resident, was apprehended by Safety officers in the McBride common room at approximately 1:24 a.m. He was taken away in a golf cart to the Office of Campus Safety for questioning. The Knox County Sherriff’s report alleges that he was arrested At 2:03 a.m and was jailed on charges of arson, inducing panic and marijuana possession.
Students who saw Allen during the course of the evening described him as drunk and possibly high. One of the student’s roommates, who saw him about an hour before the incident, described Allen as “drunk but otherwise normal.” Fifteen minutes prior to the evacuation, first-floor Mather residents noticed a student wandering aimlessly up and down their hall. JP McElyea ’14 said Allen knocked on his door, said, “I don’t know you people” and continued down the hallway, where he approached the hall’s rule poster, lit it and walked away. McElyea described the student’s temperament as “dumbfounded, blank and confused.”
Another resident, Jacob Williams ’14, described the student as “clearly not in his right mind.” Williams also said he was certain of what had happened when he began to smell smoke in his hall. According to Mather residents, Allen left the dorm only a few minutes before the fire alarm went off at 12:21 a.m. and prompted the dorm’s evacuation. Mather residents praised the speed and precision of their Community Advisors, who successfully evacuated the dorm’s residents to Gund Commons within minutes. Students were allowed to return to their rooms by 12:43 a.m.
Burn marks on the walls of Mather’s first floor indicate that a person burned four separate posters before leaving the dorm. It is unclear where Allen was between Mather’s evacuation and his apprehension in McBride. According to Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper, Officers Downes, Disel and Streska initially responded to the fire alarm and recommended the dorm’s evacuation. Campus Safety officers were able to determine the identity of the student responsible by conferring with Mather CAs, who had talked to three residents who witnessed the incident. Two of the witnesses wished to remain anonymous.
The College’s incident report also indicates that Campus Safety officers were able to determine Allen’s identity by examining the card access system in Mather and checking who had entered Mather right before the alarm went off. When referring to the outcome of the incident, Mr. Hooper said, “the credit goes to the CAs.” Once they determined the student was a McBride resident, Safety officers were able easily to locate him. Hooper described the damage caused by the burning of the posters as minimal. When asked about Allen’s temperament after his apprehension, Hooper said he was “okay” and could not be certain as to whether or not he was under the influence of anything other than alcohol. Campus Safety said the student was cooperative, but was unable to comment further.
Before his arrest, Allen issued an official handwritten statement to Kenyon College, which read: “I may like fire, but I never wanted to hurt anybody. I was merely playing with my lighter in the hall. It was a small lighter too. I hope nothing I’ve done has harmed the community.” When asked if he had lit the posters on fire in Mather, Allen wrote: “All I remember is looking at the flame of my lighter. I do not think I lit anything on fire. I just wanted a cigarette.”
Kenyon also recorded a statement from a witness, Hannah Port ’14. In a statement Port alleges: “I saw [the student] lighting signs on fire at 12:45 a.m. on October 8th. I did not know his last name, but I was able to identify him by a photo.”
According to a statement filed by Deputy Aaron Phillips, the student had a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person” and “his eyes were very red and blood-shot.”
Because Allen was carrying a messenger bag with him, Sergeant John Rine asked him if there was anything in his bag that the officers should know about. Allen did not give the officers consent to search the bag, at which time he was informed that, because he was under arrest, the bag was subject to search at the jail. Allen was subsequently arrested for arson and inducing panic and was led to Deputy Phillip’s cruiser. On the way to the cruiser the student allegedly asked if Deputy Phillips would run the siren on the way to jail, at which time Phillips responded, “this isn’t the time to be making jokes.” When asked how much alcohol he had consumed that evening, Allen admitted to drinking two beers. The student was transferred to Knox County Jail without incident.
Allen was advised of his Miranda rights en route to Knox County Jail after officers searched his messenger bag and found, according to the incident report issued by the sheriff’s office, “one glass bottle containing green vegetation with the odor of raw marijuana, one smoking pipe, one pack of zig zag rolling papers and one red cigarette lighter.”
According to the Knox County Jail Division, Allen was admitted to the jail on Oct. 8 and released the following day when his father came to bail him out. At 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, the student returned to his room, escorted by Tobias Uecker of Student Affairs and a Campus Safety officer, in order to retrieve some clothing and his laptop.
When asked whether alcohol was a mitigating circumstance of the incident and might not justify dismissal from the College as is the policy, President Nugent said, “It’s not infrequent that a student or a parent will say, ‘Well he’s not responsible because he was drunk.’ I gotta say that’s not the way I view it. So I don’t see that that mitigates one’s responsibility if one has chosen to put one’s self into an altered state.” Nugent said that it is likely Allen will be dismissed if a formal hearing is conducted, because the policy on arson is explicit.
Allen is currently on interim suspension and has retrieved all of his belongings from his room. He plans to withdraw from the College immediately, thus avoiding a judicial hearing and having a permanent record of the incident to explain in the future.
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