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Shepherd security upgraded one year after shooting

September 01, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - One year ago today, Douglas Pennington shot his two sons to death on the Shepherd University campus, then turned the gun on himself, carving out a dark chapter in the school's history and shocking students who could not believe such an event would happen at a small school.

And ironically, it would happen seven months before another campus shooting at Virginia Tech, where 33 people, including gunman Seung-Hui Cho, were killed, although Shepherd officials say their students recognized the differences that set the two incidents apart.

Douglas Pennington was suffering from mental illness, and his mother told police that he had been under the care of a mental health physician in Cumberland, Md., but had missed two appointments, according to The Associated Press. Pennington's mother also said his medication had made him senile for months, the AP reported.

A series of notes found inside the car that Douglas Pennington drove to the university and in a notebook found at his home in Grant County, W.Va., detail his frame of mind leading up to the murder-suicide, the AP reported.

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In both, Pennington talked about his internal battles, his love for his family and the feelings of guilt and pain that surrounded his life, the wire service said.

A Shepherd student who witnessed the incident from his Thacher Hall dormitory room said at the time that he saw a man wearing a camouflage hat shoot a younger man who was fleeing. The gunman then walked to another man and shot him in the head, after which he shot himself, the student said.

A year later, there is hardly a reminder of the incident, and students said no one talks about it much.

"I haven't heard any mention of it since I've been here," sophomore business major Kenny Reisinger said Wednesday as he walked near the campus along High Street.

Reisinger said he feels safe on the campus, adding that he likes the move by college officials to institute a text messaging system that can be used to alert students to campus emergencies.

Students can sign up for the service on Shepherd's Web page. Messages are sent to students' cell phones, school officials said.

About 700 students had signed up for the service as of Wednesday, Shepherd spokeswoman Valerie Owens said.

Shepherd student Jud Lowman IV said he was among those who signed up for the text messaging service.

Lowman did not seem to be bothered by last year's shooting.

"I think that was an isolated incident," he said.

In their memory

On Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., Shepherd's Student Government Association will sponsor a ceremony to dedicate the placement of a bench on the east campus in memory of Benjamin and Logan Pennington, said Sharon Kipetz, Shepherd's vice president for student affairs.

The association raised nearly $1,000 for the project. The bench next to Erma Ora Byrd Hall will include a plaque inscribed with the words: "In loving memory of Logan and Benjamin Pennington," Kipetz said.

The dedication is open to the university community, Kipetz said.

Kipetz said she believes it is important to have a ceremony to remember the shooting because the incident now is a part of the school's history and it "truly affected our campus community."

Looking back, Kipetz said, she believes the school handled the tragedy well.

College officials extended counseling help to students to help them deal with the shooting, which is important because college students generally have not experienced death and similar difficult circumstances that older adults might have witnessed, Kipetz said.

Campus security

With campus security receiving more attention, Kipetz said Shepherd can stand on a strong record of safe surroundings, which includes its commitment to keeping residence halls locked 24 hours a day.

"You now see a lot of schools saying, 'We will lock down our halls 24/7,'" Kipetz said.

In addition to recorded messages on the school's switchboard that alert students to weather emergencies and other situations and a police emergency phone system on campus, school officials will put up posters notifying students of special announcements, said Richard Stevens, assistant vice president for student affairs at Shepherd.

The 13 police emergency telephones scattered around Shepherd's campus are designated by blue lights above them.

If a student is incapacitated or is being chased by someone and cannot talk, the student simply can hit a button on the phone and campus police will know where that person is, Stevens said.

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