'Hit list' story prompts theft of 1,300 newspapers, student editor says

PENNSYLVANIA -- Westminster College officials are investigating two students in connection with the theft of more than a thousand copies of the student newspaper earlier this month.

The school would not release the students' names, but Dean of Student Affairs Neal Edman said they are being charged with ''abridgment of freedom of speech.'' No criminal charges have been filed against the students, he said.

The newspaper staff is scheduled to meet with the publications board Monday to decide whether or not to press charges, said Co-Editor in Chief Colin Dean.

''More than likely we won't,'' he said of pressing charges. ''We feel that it would be more fitting for [the person(s)] to write a letter of apology and then we'll publish it in the newspaper.''

On March 3, 1,500 copies of The Holcad were delivered to several on-campus locations at around 7 a.m. By 10 a.m., the papers were gone, Dean said.

Two hundred of the papers were found in a recycling bin and Dean said that staff members would distribute those issues today.

''We know that [1,500] is the maximum amount that could've been taken,'' Dean said. ''But the actual amount is probably somewhere closer to about 1,300.''

Dean said it cost around $1,700 to print the issue.

Dean suspects the theft was in response to the newspaper's coverage of a story involving a student who had been caught with a ''hit list'' in his dorm room. An article and an editorial on the ''hit list'' appeared in the stolen issue.

The hit list included 13 stick figures -- each representing a different student -- with their faces perforated by pellets from an air rifle and derogatory sentences scribbled underneath, according to an article in The Holcad. Neither the article nor an accompanying editorial named the student.

Dean said the editorial in the stolen issue highlighted a public safety issue and criticized the school's handling of the situation.

The student who created the hit list kept an air rifle, which the university gives a toy gun status, and two hunting knives in his dorm room, the student newspaper reported. Both the hit list and the school's policy on weapons are examples that the school is not being proactive in regards to the safety of its students, Dean said.

But Edman, dean of student affairs, disagrees.

''I think it's misleading and inappropriate to say that,'' Edman said of Dean's criticism. ''We had a very thorough and immediate investigation. Our job is to make sure the safety of our students is not at stake. Our public safety officers investigated and found no [threat].''

Edman questioned the newspaper's handling of the story and said the student publications board would be reviewing the situation.

''In my opinion the paper's articles were incendiary and they inflamed innuendo and hysteria,'' Edman said.

''The paper's journalism expertise is being called into question.''

But Edman said that neither the university nor the publications board are ''looking to censor'' the student newspaper.

''I think this will be a learning experience for all involved. The college is further exploring what it will and will not allow on campus in regards to toy guns,'' Edman said. ''It's a cause for further examination.''

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