Marberger was a leader in student government on campus, the speaker of the senate, and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. But things began to unravel for the 19-year-old this fall, according to college and law-enforcement officials. In October, he got in trouble for allegedly brandishing a handgun while drunk at his fraternity house.
Marberger was suspended from school for a week and a half after an investigation by campus police and returned to his home in the Philadelphia area. He was kicked out of his fraternity because of the incident, resigned his office with the student government association and faced a possible expulsion, according to school officials.
Concerns this week began with postings on social media overnight Sunday into Monday, police confirmed, and escalated when Marberger’s family called the school. They said he had taken a rifle case from their home.
Marberger’s parents told police on Monday that he was despondent about things at school.
Harris Murphy, the state’s attorney for Kent County, Md., said Marberger is wanted on an arrest warrant related to four charges: “Dangerous weapon on school property, handgun on a person, possession of a firearm by a minor, illegal possession of ammunition. They are from an incident stated to have occurred on or about October 21 through October 29th.”
Jerry Roderick, head of the Washington College public safety office, said that the handgun Marberger displayed in October is a .22 caliber seven-shot revolver manufactured between 1901 and 1941. Although classified as an antique, the handgun is among those on a restricted weapon list in Maryland and remains in police custody. Marberger was told to leave campus on Oct. 29, after police found the gun at an off-campus apartment.
Murphy declined to give further details about the incident or incidents until the warrant has been served; Marberger was last seen in Pennsylvania at 7 a.m. Monday and has not been located.
Because of uncertainty about Marberger’s whereabouts and intentions, Washington College President Sheila Bair said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that the school would be closed until the matter is resolved. Bair said there has been no direct threat conveyed to the campus.
With the evacuation, only about 50 students out of the school’s 1,400 remain on campus. Some students who were unable to return home took shelter with people in the Chestertown community, Bair said.
It has been a tense two days for the close-knit college, founded in 1782.
On Monday, Marberger was treated as a missing person, and officials emphasized at the time that he had done nothing wrong. College officials planned to have classes at the small liberal-arts college Tuesday and resume normal operations after an overnight lockdown, despite considerable concern from students and parents unsure of the risk.
But on Tuesday morning, shortly before 10 a.m., college officials abruptly canceled classes after getting new information from law enforcement. They urged students to return to dorms immediately and told faculty and staff to return to or stay in their offices until further notice.
Early Tuesday, school officials posted on the college Web site: “There is a warrant out for Jacob Marberger’s arrest, and a high-intensity search is being conducted by state and federal law enforcement.” Later in the morning, they took the further step of shutting down entirely, and added this update:
In the interest of safety and in light of the ongoing law enforcement investigation, Washington College will be closed until further notice. Anyone who is currently off-campus should remain off-campus.There will be a Washington College staff member shortly in the residence hall to check you out before you leave. All students who can leave campus and return home should do so after they check in with the WC staff member. Students who live off-campus should stay in their off-campus housing or return home. Students who are unable to return home should attempt to travel with a friend if possible, or should stay in their residence hall room until further arrangements can be made.Faculty and nonessential staff who are on campus should leave campus and return to their homes; anyone who is off campus should stay off campus until further notice. They should continue to monitor their email, the website, and WACAlerts for updates in the coming days as this situation unfolds.Any afternoon and evening events are cancelled until further notice.Once again, we have not had any direct threats against campus or any members of our community, but in the interest in caution we feel closing campus until the situation changes is the best course of action. Anyone who has contact with Jacob should contact law enforcement immediately.
Lt. John Frye of the Cheltenham Township, Penn., police department wrote in an e-mail that the warrant for Marberger’s arrest is in connection with “an incident that happened on his campus in Maryland.”
It’s unusual to completely shut down a college campus, but Eastern Kentucky University did so for several days earlier this fall after a written threat was found to “KILL ALL.” That threat came not long after a student at an Oregon community college walked into class and gunned down nine people.
When asked about reports that Marberger had been seen Monday at a store that sells ammunition, Frye responded by e-mail: “Walmart in Hamburg, Pa.” That store is northwest of Marberger’s hometown of Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
Authorities described Marberger as 5 foot 4 inches tall, 130 pounds, with curly brown hair. On Monday, police said he was last seen driving a dark green, 1997 Land Rover with Pennsylvania license plates beginning with “JWY.”
His parents have declined to comment.
On Tuesday, students were frantically trading messages from their dorm rooms on social media, trying to figure out what was really happening and whether college officials were overreacting, or they were were in actual danger.
Some traded links such as a past school update about an exhibit about guns, at which a photo was captioned, “Jacob Marberger ’18 discusses his stance on gun rights and the Second Amendment with Provost and Dean Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright.”
Some people also reached out directly to Marberger.
By Tuesday afternoon, the campus appeared deserted. Blinds were drawn tight on academic buildings and the school’s sidewalks were desolate. The only presence Tuesday was police officers roving the grounds on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Taylor Douglas, a freshman from the Chestertown area, said that she felt unease at school in the wake of the news that an armed student is on the loose. Douglas, 18, said that the school abruptly canceled classes without much explanation.
“It’s kind of anxious, and I wish they told us why,” Douglas said, noting that she was in the library studying Tuesday when officials told her to leave. “They aren’t telling us what happened and why they suddenly decided to cancel classes. … I don’t know what it is.”
Washington College professor Tahir Shad said that in his 27 years on campus the school has never before issued a lockdown. Shad said that while safety comes first for students, he plans to continue working like normal, grading papers for his political science and international studies classes.
“With all the terrorism recently, I just can’t bring myself to hide in an office,” Shad said. “I think you should just carry on.”
Shad said that he had Marberger in his classes and was impressed by the student’s sharp intellect and in-depth knowledge of military history. Shad said that Marberger was among a group of students who went to Seoul in March for a Model United Nations conference. During the trip, the students stopped at the Demilitarized Zone on the border of North and South Korea.
“He knew more about North Korea’s army than I did,” Shad said. “He knew all about the weaponry, the tactics and strategy.”
Shad said that Marberger was articulate and “highly intellectual.”
“He seemed to thrive here,” Shad said.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report. Svrluga reported from Washington.