A University student was killed and another was injured yesterday after a 19-year-old State College resident allegedly opened fire with a high-power military rifle on the HUB lawn.
Jillian Robbins spread a tarp under trees in the northwest corner of the HUB lawn and fired five shots toward College Avenue about 9:30 a.m., said David Stormer, assistant vice president for safety and environmental services.
Robbins, of 240-204 Turtle Creek Apartments, 358 Toftrees Ave., was arrested at the scene and will be arraigned today, according to the Office of Public Information.
Melanie Spalla, a 21-year-old senior who lived at 286 Simmons, was shot from about 138 feet away, Stormer said.
Spalla, a journalism major from Altoona, died at the scene.
Another student, Nicholas Mensah, of 407 Stephens, was shot in the left side of his abdomen from about 300 feet away, Stormer said. Mensah's family told reporters he is 22 years old.
CORRECTION: : This article (when first posted) incorrectly listed Spalla's age and year. Spalla was a 21-year-old senior.
Mensah, a native of Ghana now living in Philadelphia, was operated on yesterday afternoon at Centre Community Hospital and was upgraded from critical to fair condition, said Donna Williams, a hospital spokeswoman.
Spalla's autopsy is scheduled for this morning.
When questioned by police after her arrest, Robbins said she knew none of the people at whom she allegedly fired. Police were unsure yesterday whether there is a motive behind the shootings.
"They asked her why she did it. She kept saying, 'I don't know. I don't know,' " said John Lazo (senior-administration of justice), a witness to Robbins' arrest. "Her legs were all blood."
The only other killing at the University occurred on Nov. 28, 1969, when graduate student Betsy Ruth Aardsma of Holland, Mich., was stabbed to death in Pattee. The assailant has still not been identified and the investigation remains open.
Stormer said Mensah was probably hit first in the shootings yesterday. He was walking along the path between the HUB lawn and Health and Human Development Building East near the gazebo, Stormer said. Another student reportedly found a bullet lodged in a textbook in his book bag.
Robbins loaded a second clip before Brendon Malovrh, a witness to the shootings, found her hunched over a 7mm Mauser rifle, a high-power military weapon, Stormer said.
During a struggle, Malovrh, of 57 Atherton Hall, wrestled the gun away from Robbins. She then pulled out a knife and attempted to stab him.
When he stepped out of the way, Robbins stabbed herself in the thigh. Robbins sat on the ground and Malovrh used his belt to try to stop her bleeding, Stormer said.
Robbins was treated for the stab wound yesterday at Centre Community Hospital and was upgraded from critical to fair condition, Williams said, adding that no one was permitted to see her by police order.
Williams also said Robbins is under assessment, but she would not say if Robbins was under the care of a psychologist.
Mensah was in surgery for about an hour and a half, and Robbins was in surgery for about an hour, Williams said. Mensah was operated on first because "he was in much worse shape," she said.
The alleged shooter and the victim were placed in the same recovery room after their operations.
Mensah's brother, Michael Mensah, a high school student, was told about the shooting when he returned from school yesterday. His father and uncle are with the victim and the family is doing well, he said.
"Everything's OK here," he said, "but we're taking everything very serious."
Police have interviewed about 15 witnesses and plan to reconstruct the event within the next couple of weeks, Stormer said.
Kerry Butler (sophomore-division of undergraduate studies) was walking along the same path as Mensah when she heard the shot, followed by a pause. She had not realized the noises were gunshots, so she kept walking at a normal pace toward the area where Mensah fell. She then heard four more shots in quick succession.
"I heard a man yelling from the HUB that there was a shooting and to run away," she said. "I took off and went onto Old Main lawn. I can't make out my thoughts after that."
Kara Pehanich (sophomore-secondary education) also witnessed the incident.
"I heard the first two shots and when I looked over I saw the person with a gun under a tree in the corner," she said. "Then I heard two more shots."
A man asked for someone to call University Health Services and the police, Pehanich said. Shrubs around the lawn prevented her from seeing the victims fall.
"As soon as I heard the shots," Pehanich said, "I got out of there."
After the gunshots, Delorse Homan, a staff assistant in the dean's office of the College of Health and Human Development, looked out of a second-floor window of Henderson Building and saw a person with an umbrella on the ground.
"A woman ran to his side and said something to him and then ran for help," she said. "I knew it must be serious because he buckled over like that. I thought, 'He's not getting up.' "
Some students inside surrounding buildings during the shootings did not realize immediately what had happened, and several assumed the loud noises were something other than gunshots, such as rifle practice or construction.
Tom Cioccio (junior-food science) said he and other students on the second level of the HUB heard the gunshots but continued studying because they did not know what the noise could have been. When a man informed them of the shooting, some began to scream, he said, and many went to the window and balcony to see.
Faith Georgic (junior-nutrition) viewed the aftermath from a kitchen window on the second floor of Henderson Building. She saw a police officer holding the rifle and the knife.
"It was just like this one," she said, holding up a six-inch serrated steak knife.
Georgic said she also saw the suspect, wearing a black, military-style beret and a camouflage shirt, being loaded into the ambulance.
Jen Butler, a State College resident, was in the Centre Community Hospital emergency room for a leg injury unrelated to the shooting. There was not much activity around Robbins, who was surrounded by a white curtain, she said.
"There was mud all over the floor," she said. "There were cops all over the place."
Robbins enlisted in the Army Reserves in March 1994, and went through basic training in June and July 1994, said Maj. Greg Yesko of Central Pennsylvania Army Reserves. She was discharged in June 1995 because she failed to complete high school, he said.
Collegian staff writers T.R. Deckman, Laura M. Boscarino and Jim Kinney contributed to this report.