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Temple’s campus is on edge after a student was shot to death: ‘Students are afraid’

Philadelphia’s growing gun violence and more than 500 homicides, which came painfully close to home for Temple students in the last couple weeks, have put the campus on edge.

A Temple University police officer bikes around Temple's campus in Philadelphia.
A Temple University police officer bikes around Temple's campus in Philadelphia.Read moreHeather Khalifa / MCT

It was an emergency meeting, held one day after the killing of a Temple student outside his apartment in an apparent robbery and carjacking attempt.

Some student government members who would normally show up in person tuned in to Monday’s meeting by Zoom instead. They didn’t feel comfortable walking at night after Samuel Collington was shot in the middle of the day within a block of campus, said student government president Bradley Smutek.

“Students are afraid. Parents are afraid. Parents are afraid for students’ safety,” Smutek said.

» READ MORE: Friends and professors remember slain Temple student as kind and courageous: ‘He would fight for anybody’

Police on Wednesday said they identified a suspect, 17-year-old Latif Williams, in connection with Collington’s killing. As Williams remained at large, Philadelphia’s growing gun violence crisis, with more than 500 homicides this year — including the Nov. 16 shooting death of an 18-year-old three blocks from the North Philadelphia campus — has hit painfully close for Temple students. It has put the campus on edge, and increased the university’s urgency to initiate safety measures to protect its young people.

Temple president Jason Wingard in an email message to the campus Tuesday night promised over the next days and weeks to increase security, including working with the city Police Department to establish more patrols in nearby student residential areas and aiming to boost the 115-officer campus police force by 50%. The university also intends to upgrade lighting, cameras, and emergency phones and increase the availability of shuttle service and its walking escort program, he said.

In addition, he said the university intends to establish a new institute focused on violence reduction and collaborate with Mayor Jim Kenney on an antiviolence initiative to reverse the homicide trend.

And at 5 p.m. Thursday, it will hold a forum on Zoom for parents, students, and community members.

“Since I learned of this tragedy, I have engaged with Temple leadership, city officials, and law enforcement in order to bring the full force of our academic and policy expertise to bear on this problem,” said Wingard.

Wingard has talked with Kenney, and on Tuesday afternoon discussed with the president of Temple’s faculty senate the possibility of establishing an initiative on gun violence and sought recommendations for faculty who might be a good fit.

“It’s heart wrenching that lives are lost this way, particularly when young people are just trying to get an education so they can make a way in life,” said Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, faculty senate president, who has a son attending Temple. “This is a tragedy and we have to do something to make sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t hit us again and again and again.”

» READ MORE: Temple University student killed in shooting Sunday

Student government plans to host a meeting on campus at 4 p.m. Monday where concerns can be aired, Smutek said. He expects a good number of students and possibly parents to attend.

A vigil for Collington, a senior political science major from Prospect Park, Delaware County, is planned for Thursday evening at Interboro High School, his alma mater. Collington, an aspiring lawyer who served as president of the Political Science Society for the last year and an officer of the College Democrats, was shot on the 2200 block of North Park Avenue at 1:30 p.m., after having parked his mom’s SUV. He had just returned from spending Thanksgiving with his family when the gunman approached.

In his message, Wingard called Collington “a beacon of hope who inspired his classmates and others to mobilize and take action to improve our community.”

As of Tuesday, no arrests had been made, though police have a person of interest whose identity they’re working to establish, said Deputy Police Commissioner Ben Naish. The incident was captured on surveillance video.

”We do suspect that the person was involved in prior crimes,” Naish said, declining specifics.

Concern among Temple parents also is mounting.

Smutek said after the Nov. 16 death of Ahmir Jones on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, his mother called him in the middle of class. “She just wanted to make sure I was OK,” Smutek said.

Mark DeSilva, a Temple parent from the Wilkes-Barre area, hadn’t heard about Collington’s death by Tuesday. But he knew of Jones’ death and had already warned his two daughters to travel together and not wander far from campus.

“It’s alarming,” said DeSilva, a pastor.

He said he had talked with his church treasurer, who has two grandchildren transferring to Temple after the holidays and she also is worried. DeSilva’s daughters had traveled back to Philadelphia on Sunday and likely arrived shortly before Collington was shot.

Given the pressures from COVID-19 and the financial challenges so many face, Williams-Witherspoon, the faculty president, said she fears the wave of violence is just beginning.

“Communities that have been without resources for so long are more at risk for this type of violence,” she said.

Smutek said the refrain has always been that as long as students stay on campus, they will be safe. Collington’s death shattered that notion, he said. He called it “disingenuous” to say that Collington was killed off campus, noting that it was about a block away and across from student housing.

“It could have been any of us,” Smutek said. “It’s all so senseless.”

Samantha Quinlan, 20, vice president of student government, said that during her freshman year she lived near the area where Collington was killed.

“It is very unsettling,” the junior from Long Island said. “I don’t even know if I’ve yet come to words for how I feel about it.”

Students used to hear that they shouldn’t walk alone at night. Now, they feel they can’t walk alone at all, she said.

“Those are the concerns we are hearing from students that they are terrified to walk, even in broad daylight,” she said.

Some students, who live off campus in areas not patrolled by campus safety, are very concerned, she said.

At the same time, student government representatives are trying to balance the calls for more security with concerns from some students about too much policing, Smutek said.

“How do we balance those?” he asked. “I don’t have the right answer. Nobody does.”

Inquirer staff writer Anna Orso contributed.