The flashing lights of Galesburg Police Department squad cars and Galesburg Fire Department (GPD) fire trucks lit up Beta Theta Pi house and Alumni Hall at approximately 1:54 a.m. on April 15. A Galesburg police officer on patrol around the County Court House had seen flames coming from the back of Beta House and had called dispatch. By the time GPD had departed, the flames at Beta had been completely put out, the safety of the residents had been ensured and three Knox College students had been warned and advised by the police.
When the first two Galesburg Police officers arrived at Beta House, they ascertained that, rather than the house itself actually being on fire, as it had appeared from a distance, the flames were the result of students setting fire to lighter fluid. One of the officers remained at Beta to ensure that the fire was out and to discuss the events with two students who said, according to the report filed with GPD, that they had “just been messing around with lighter fluid.” The second officer left Beta house in pursuit of a third student who had run when the police arrived.
The student who fled the scene was later apprehended after being pursued by the GPD officer into the dormitory area of Seymour Hall. The student was brought downstairs by the police officer, handcuffed and informed by the officer that he would be put under arrest for “resisting a police officer, after failing to stop, even after [the officer] had yelled for him to do so,” said the police report. Campus Safety was also observed to be at the scene.
However, rather than arrest the student, the officers consulted with their sergeant and instead, forwarded the matter to Knox College Director of Campus Safety, John Schlaf. The officers informed the student that “he would not be arrested, but if there was a next time, he would be and that the information would be passed on to Schlaf.”
Speaking about the events of Thursday night, Schlaf said, “The officers were concerned that there may have been a deliberate fire set,” when they first arrived at the scene and observed individuals running from the scene. On the subject of the student being handcuffed, Schlaf said, “They knew he had some involvement and he was handcuffed.”
“It’s difficult to comment on a circumstance when you’re not there at the time it took place, but after the fact it was resolved well for all individuals involved, especially when worried about the individuals in the house,” said Schlaf.
The conduct of GPD throughout the entire event seemed to be very efficient, professional and effective. Speaking about the actions taken by GPD, Schlaf said, “The police were gracious in their decision to allow the college [as opposed to the criminal justice system] to pursue the adjudication in the matter.”
Schlaf emphasized the danger of fire at college campuses, stating that Campus Safety had sought to make the danger clear to the students involved.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we understand and accept the fact that a joke involving fire is of critical importance to students, law enforcement and campus safety,” said Schlaf.