Wilkes-Barre robbery poses little threat to campus, despite early reports

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

Despite reports of another robbery within walking distance of Wilkes University, it is doubtful that the campus community is in any danger, Public Safety manager Jerry Rebo said Wednesday afternoon.
Around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, a man walked into the Dollar General store on the corner of South Main Street and West Ross Street in Wilkes-Barre. Rebo said eyewitnesses described the man as “an African-American male wearing a dark hoodie over his head with a baseball cap, baggy jeans and tan boots.”
According to Rebo, who has been in contact with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, the man reportedly claimed to have had a gun, although the store clerk did not see one. The man then allegedly stole a pair of Tonka toy trucks and, after demanding the store’s money from the clerk, ran north on Barnum Place, behind Wilkes’ Arnaud C. Marts Center and got into a green Chevy Impala that was parked alongside Cumberland Apartments on West Ross before taking off.
A similar robbery took place the day before, at the Family Dollar also on South Main Street.
Following reports of the Dollar General robbery on Wednesday, Public Safety sent a mass email to Wilkes students and staff, just after 11 a.m. The message informed recipients of the situation and warned them to call 911 if they were to see the man. A similar emergency notification text message was also issued. Anyone concerned about the incident was encouraged to contact the Public Safety office for more information.
Despite the precautions, Rebo said that, although Public Safety takes every possible threat seriously, he did not believe the robbery was likely to directly affect students or staff at Wilkes’ campus.
“When someone’s committed a robbery,” Rebo said, “they usually already have a plan to get out and they’re not going to be hanging around the area. There’s always the threat of maybe somebody running into them, but this guy ran about 20 or 30 yards and then he got into the car and was gone.”
In addition to the campus notifications, Rebo said Public Safety officers were sent to search the Marts Center for the man, as it was only later that Public Safety learned from Wilkes-Barre police that the maned had already made his getaway. Likewise, Rebo said that, when he initially talked to Wilkes-Barre police, they were unsure if a weapon was involved or not. Thus, he said, Public Safety opted to to err on the side of caution and act as if there indeed was definitive proof of a weapon and that the man was still in the area.
Mark DeFrain, a Wilkes student currently studying middle school education with a concentration in math, agreed that the situation was unlikely to pose an immediate danger to the campus community. DeFrain also said he appreciated Public Safety taking the precautions it did, however he admitted the notification email never reached him.
“I only go onto my Wilkes email once or twice a week,” DeFrain said. “I probably wouldn’t have even known about (the robbery) if somebody else here hadn’t told me about it.”
Nevertheless, DeFrain said he was confident that Public Safety would be more than adequate in dealing with a more serious threat.
“Further emergency steps would have probably locked down the campus,” Rebo said, explaining what Public Safety would do in the event of a more imminent danger to students and staff. Rebo said that students and staff would be locked inside the campus buildings, with no one permitted in or out. However, he also pointed out that he could think of no instance where such precautions had been necessary.
Assuring that Wednesday situation was far from the most serious threat he’s seen Public Safety deal with in the 11 years he’s been a Wilkes employee, Rebo added that, in any situation deemed especially dangerous, Wilkes-Barre police would be contacted straightaway.
For anyone concerned about the fact that the man sought in the robberies remains on the loose, Rebo noted that he has been informed that police do indeed have a suspect they are currently investigating, and that it is believed the man responsible for the Dollar General is the same as that whop robbed the Family Dollar a day earlier.
Regardless of a danger’s immediacy, though, Rebo recommended students make an effort to maintain contact with Wilkes through the school’s email and text message systems, stressing that the best precaution students can take at any time is to stay up-to-date and informed.