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Cox clears air on campus threat

November 9, 2011 Comments off

By Annie Hunter, Managing Editor

Young Harris College President Cathy Cox held a meeting Nov. 3 to inform students about the recent events concerning the threat letter found on Sept. 13, the alleged attack in the Senior Village on Oct. 19 and the arrest of YHC student Joshua Simmons.

Simmons, a junior from Cisco, pled guilty to making false statements to law enforcement and is currently being held at Towns County Jail for the next two months.  Simmons admitted to planting a threat letter directed at YHC students, lying to the police, attempting to frame another student and staging an assault.  Because Simmons pled guilty and has been sentenced, Cox was now able to divulge the details of the events leading up to his arrest to the student body.

“The purpose of the student debriefing meeting was to allow students to hear directly from YHC administration about the recent campus incidents and how the situations were resolved,” said Denise Cook, director of communications and marketing at YHC. “The meeting was informative and successful and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback on how the matter was handled.”

More than 60 students attended the meeting.  Campus police and staff from the offices of Student Development and Advancement also attended the meeting.

Following the detailed account of the investigation and arrest (a summary of which follows), students were allowed to ask questions and make any comments on how the matter was handled.  Overall the feedback was positive, with several students praising the manner in which the investigation was handled. During the meeting Simmons’s roommate expressed gratitude towards YHC police for professionally handling the incident in the Village.

One student voiced concerns about Simmons’s role as a police cadet. Ken Henderson, chief of Police at YHC, assured her that all cadets undergo screening and that Simmons had nothing in his background to indicate he was capable of such behavior.

Another student asked about visiting Simmons. Henderson suggested calling the Towns County Jail to confirm the days and hours for visitation.  Susan Rogers, vice president of Student Development at YHC, reinforced that while Simmons is not allowed on campus, students can go off campus to meet with him.

Cox concluded the meeting by stating that YHC is a family, and no student should hesitate if he or she needs to speak with someone about these events or has any general concern.  Lynne Grady, director of counseling and psychological services CAPS, is available for anyone in need of counseling.

The administration, police force and Grady have been working everyday on closing this investigation since the discovery of the letter.

While commenting on the success of the investigation, Cox said it is still a tragedy as it involves a member of the YHC family.

“The campus has been put through a hell of a trauma.  There’s nothing good about this story other than we closed the loop and can feel good about where we are,” said Cox, calling Simmons’s situation heartbreaking.

Following the debriefing, students expressed relief and appreciation for the meeting.

“We were kind of kept in the dark, but I understand why,” said Rebecca Fordyce, a sophomore art major from Oglethorpe.  “It’s good to really know what’s going on now.”

Ashley Eschbach, a freshman history education major from Key West, Fla., echoed Fordyce’s sentiments.

“I was surprised, he didn’t seem like the type to do this,” said Eschbach.  “There were so many rumors. It’s good to know what really happened.”

The Threat, Investigation and Arrest

EDITOR’s NOTE

The following account of the events since Sept. 13 was provided by Cathy Cox, president of YHC at the meeting with students.

Just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 13, Cox received a phone call to her home from Henderson informing her that a threatening letter had been discovered on Maxwell Center.

The note read “Bang.  Bang.  You can’t stop it.  Students die today.”  A housekeeper had found the note rolled up in the door handle of one of the main doors on the front of the building.  Cox said emergency protocol was immediately put into place, despite not knowing the full meaning behind the cryptic message.

An hour after the housekeeper reported the note, another call came into the police station– this time from Simmons who claimed he found the note on his way back to his apartment in the Village.  Simmons had been studying with friends for a math test in Duckworth Library and was walking back to his room when he said he spotted the note attached to Maxwell’s door handle.  Simmons said he read the note and was so upset he returned to his apartment to pray.  An hour later he called the police.  This raised the first red flag for the police.  Simmons was a police cadet and was known for being eager to report any trace of suspicious activity on campus.  The police felt it was out of character for Simmons to wait an hour to inform law enforcement about such a serious matter.

In addition, Simmons had made plans with his math study group to meet for breakfast before their test after getting a few hours of sleep, but never showed.  When members from the group called him about his whereabouts, they said he acted ‘strange.’  Simmons told his friends that he found the note and saw a man place it on the door.

An emergency faculty meeting was held that morning to gain any leads from professors who might have noticed a distressed student in their classes.

Students received text messages and emails from the E2Campus, an emergency alert system for YHC students, canceling all classes before 10 a.m. until further notice.

Cox said it was debated whether it would be appropriate to instruct students to remain in their dorms.  Because the letter was vague, Cox did not want to risk telling students to remain in their residence halls if they would not be truly safe there.

A bomb-detection canine unit was brought in from Rabun County to sweep the academic buildings.  Finding nothing, and with the campus heavily monitored by law enforcement including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, classes resumed at 10 a.m.  All buildings remained on lockdown, however, with access only through the front doors.  Residence Life staff continued to watch over the residence halls.  Students were told that they may be searched by police if they were suspected of carrying a weapon or an explosive.  Cox hoped that by allowing students to return to class, the campus could gain back some normalcy, as well give faculty and law enforcement the opportunity to observe student behavior.

While Simmons’s stories were changing, he was given the benefit of the doubt as he was upset.  The GBI pursued him as a suspect but still followed any leads received through the YHC police and the Towns County Sheriff’s tip-line.  Several students were questioned and administered a polygraph test.  Simmons claimed he had nothing to do with the threat letter, citing his active involvement in religious life on campus.  In an effort to clear his name, Simmons consented to the polygraph test, but did poorly.  Polygraph tests can give reliable results, but cannot stand up in court as primary evidence because test subjects can manipulate body cues, leading to inaccuracies.  The test results encouraged the GBI to continue to view Simmons as a suspect.

Simmons became nervous from all the attention he received from the police and began asking fellow students to send in character references to Cox and the police department.

“I don’t know why but Josh Simmons asked me to write this.  He’s a really good guy.  I’ve known him two weeks,” said Cox, mimicking the letters with a light-hearted laugh.  Cox said in all seriousness she understood that students were trying to do the right thing and help a friend, and she did not hold anyone at fault.

Meanwhile phone calls continued to flow into the tip-line that a different student planned on killing students at YHC.  When the police would follow up on these tips and track down the alleged suspect, the accused student was completely oblivious to the caller’s claims and GBI believed the other student posed no threat.  This wrongly accused student had previously been questioned by the police, and Simmons was one of only a few people who knew his identity.

Police gathered more evidence implicating Simmons as a legitimate suspect by tracing text messages and emails sent from Simmons to YHC’s Information Technology department. Police found messages where Simmons inquired about where cameras and surveillance equipment were set up on campus.  Simmons used a false name and created a separate email address as an alias.  He even stopped by ITech personally, stating he was a friend of the fabricated student and also wanted to know about the cameras.

On the night of Oct. 19, Towns County dispatch received a 911 call from a student living in the Village that his roommate had attempted suicide.  Police and EMTs responded to the call.  The victim turned out to be Simmons, who said he had not tried to commit suicide but that he had been attacked by a masked man.

Simmons changed his story for a third time since the original discovery of the note, stating that the man who attacked him that night was the same masked man he saw placing the note on Maxwell.  The masked man allegedly broke into the apartment, cut Simmons with a knife, wrote on him with marker and bound his hands and feet with zip-ties.  The attacker waited to attack Simmons until his roommate was in the shower.

Simmons refused medical attention and would not go to the hospital.  The GBI crime scene specialist concluded that no attack occurred as there was no evidence of a break-in or struggle, with Simmons lacking any defensive wounds.  Simmons had also been spotted at Walmart buying markers, likely the same ones used in the alleged attack.

The College released a statement to YHC students the same night police responded to a 911 call. The statement indicated there was no credible assault and no one was believed to be in danger.  Cox still kept a strong police presence to ease any concerns about campus safety.

Simmons’s father had been alerted about the attack and drove to campus out of fear for his son’s welfare.  Cox said when Simmons’s father arrived they told him that the attack had been staged.  Simmons was once again questioned by the police into the early hours of the morning and subsequently arrested and transported to Towns County Jail.  The District Attorney was prepared to charge Simmons with several major felonies including making a terroristic threat.  The DA offered Simmons a lighter sentence, with the possibility of benefitting from Georgia’s First Offender Act, if he pled guilty.  This means if Simmons meets all terms of his sentence his criminal record will be expunged.  Simmons must complete three years of probation after being released from prison, as well as pay fines and restitution to the College.

Simmons will also receive internal disciplinary action from YHC.  The details of this action are confidential; however Cox did share that Simmons will either face suspension or expulsion in the coming days. Rogers clarified Simmons will be banned from the campus for a period of time.  If he were to be suspended, he would not be allowed to re-enroll at YHC for at least a year after his release from prison.  Rogers indicated it would be highly unlikely that Simmons would return after just a year’s suspension and stated he would be facing the most serious level of suspension or expulsion.

The lingering question is why?  Why did Simmons plant the letter in the first place?  That’s something for which Cox said she has no answer.  Simmons never stated if he actually had intentions of harming students.  Perhaps he tried to get out of the math test, and things got out of hand.  It could have been a prank gone awry, or maybe he was hoping to find the letter and appear as a hero.  Cox said she suspects Simmons is suffering from mental illness that neither his family nor friends previously noticed.  His mother indicated to college officials that they are considering treatment options for him.  Simmons’s mother has conveyed that he is incredibly sorry and remorseful.  Cox concluded the summary of events by asking that the campus keep him in their thoughts and prayers.

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YHC baseball drops match-up with Reinhardt

March 16, 2011 Comments off

By Ethan Burch, Sports Editor
with information from wire reports

Waleska—On Wednesday, the Young Harris College baseball team fell 18-5 to Reinhardt College after falling behind by 10 runs in the game’s first inning.

The Eagles (8-13) started out the game with 10 runs in the first inning to get an early lead. Reinhardt had nine hits and capitalized off of one error by the Mountain Lions in the opening inning.

Reinhardt  extended their lead to 12 by scoring two runs in the third inning.

Reinhardt put the final touches on the win by scoring four runs in the fifth inning to go ahead 16-0.

YHC (16-13) then put themselves on the scoreboard by scoring five runs on three hits to put the game score at 16-5.

Reinhardt scored two runs to close out the 18-5 victory over the Mountain Lions.

Nick Galvin (0-1) started the game on the mound for the Mountain Lions. Galvin pitched for 0.2 of an inning giving up 10 runs on eight hits. Galvin would also account for two strikeouts and a walk. The Mountain Lions relief pitching in the game consisted of Tyler Isbell, Blake Fortune, Billy Demersky, Evan Carr and Taylor Topping.

Cory Cox (1-1) started on the mound for the Eagles and earned the win after throwing for 5.1 innings. Cox gave up five runs on four hits an accounted for four strikeouts and 13 walks. Cox was relieved by Chris Fletcher, Ricky Johnson and Jake Waters.

YHC will play North Greenville University in Tigerville, SC on Friday, March 18 at 3 p.m. This will be the first in a three-game series between the teams.

Cox reads for Ferst Foundation

February 9, 2011 Comments off

By Kathleen Layton, Editor-in-Chief

“Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.” These lines from the Dr. Seuss childhood classic, The Sneetches, were read by Young Harris College President Cathy Cox for the second annual CEO Battle for the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy.

Cox and six other CEOs competed from Jan. 13 to Feb. 7 for the title of “Favorite Reader.” The six other executives that participated included, Paul Wood, CEO for Georgia EMC, William Griffin, CEO for Rosser International, Michael Russell, CEO of H.J. Russell, Ruth Knox, president of Wesleyan College, Raymond King, CEO for the Atlanta Zoo and William Kimble, managing partner of KPMG in Atlanta.

Each CEO participated in a filmed-reading to a class of students. Cox read to a class of Pre-K students at Towns County, which is a local school system in Hiawassee. Each reading was edited into a film clip for voters to watch and vote on through the Ferst Foundation’s website. By visiting the Ferst Foundation’s webpage, voters were able to view the clips and pick the CEO reader of their choice. The “Favorite Reader” and winner of the contest will be announced on Feb. 14.

Throughout the competition, votes for each CEO could be cast daily, with the initial vote free of charge. Each additional vote cost $3 each. This donation is equivalent to the cost of one book, which would go to a child signed up in the Ferst Foundation’s reading program.

The Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy’s website says the goal of the organization is to “provide books for local communities to prepare all Georgia preschool children for reading and learning success.”

This foundation touches on a cause that Cox worked to improve during her 2006 campaign for Georgia Governor, with childhood literacy being “a major part of my platform,” Cox said.

Cox explained that although this issue seems obvious and easy to fix, improving literacy rates among children does “not [yield] immediate results. So, this makes it a short coming in policy,” Cox said.

Cox’s political background not only sparked her interest in this cause, but it led Cox to meet Robin Ferst, the president and founder of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy.

“I met Robin years ago at a political fundraiser. We hit it off as friends. She has a fun personality, and I loved what she was doing from the get-go,” Cox said.

This set the stage for Cox’s role in the CEO Battle.

“Reading is one of these things that makes a child’s life come together. Why not invest in something to help a child succeed,” Cox said in regards to why she competed in the 2011 CEO Battle.

“At different points, I was in the top three,” Cox said.

Although Cox would like to be voted “Favorite Reader,” her hope is that this competition will “win some recognition” so that more books can go into the hands of children.

Cox encouraged YHC students to get involved by saying, “Anything that students can do to read [to a child] will have a lasting impact on that child’s life.”

Blue Ridge EMC brings new energy next door to YHC

October 25, 2010 Comments off

The new headquarters for the Blue Ridge EMC is already under construction. Photo by Ashton Jones

By Holly Meyer, Staff Writer

Anyone that has driven from Hiawassee to campus has probably passed a series of trucks, orange cones and flags on your way back to Young Harris College. This construction site is right down the street from YHC and is soon to be the new base of operations for the Blue Ridge Mountain EMC or BRMEMC.

According to the EMC’s web page, North Georgia Network Cooperative or NGN has been awarded more than $33 million in federal stimulus funds to construct an ultra-high speed fiber optic network throughout northeast Georgia. NGN is a new nonprofit cooperative organized by county, as a way to improve services available to business and residential consumers throughout the region.

According to the EMC’s website, headquarters justifies the move because they are simply out of room and have been for quite some time. The lack of space has created difficult working conditions and has contributed to a rapid decline in the buildings and warehouses, which are being over-stressed and over used.

Also, there is not enough employee or customer parking space at the BRMEMC’s current location. This could potentially become a source of frustration for those customers who choose either to come inside the office to pay their bills or need direct customer service.

Mathew Akins, general manager for the Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, believes that the growing population of the area has directly caused the need for a newer and bigger location. He also says that need for so many employees to work the construction site has helped feed the local need for jobs.

BRMEMC has hired several local contracting businesses to work the site next to YHC. Some of these companies include, Gray Logging of Union County, Southern Concrete Materials of Union and Clay County, Byers Well Drilling of Union County and Shuler Clearing Company of Clay County.

“Before it was owned by the BRMEMC, the 104 acres next to Young Harris was owned by a multitude of people, and then bought collectively by BRMEMC,”  said Akins.

But, what exaclty is going into all that space? Currently, the plans consist of a headquarters facility that will stand on a portion of a total 104 acres of land. The new headquarters facility will include new administration, operations, warehouse, garage and other critical facilities. It will include a “data bunker” that will house all of our critical servers and electronic devices. The site will have separate customer entrances and heavy equipment entrances, and the facility will have emergency egress onto Timberline Drive. Eventually, BRMEMC hopes to sell off unused portions of the acreage to interested parties, which in turn will allow the companny to pay down the overall debt for the facility.

“It should take another 12 to 14 months for the construction to be complete,” said Akins.

As far as the college is concerned, President Cox, states that this will not effect the college’s plan to expand as a four-year school and feels that it is a great addition to the local community.

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YHC puts the camp in campus

October 25, 2010 Comments off

By Erin Grable, Staff Writer

The campus of Young Harris College has been chosen as the site for the newest edition to the Winshape Camps program funded by Chick-fil-A. But, many YHC students and faculty members are wondering if the Winshape camp will interfere with summer school at YHC.

“We are free to operate our summer school and any other programs we choose to operate,” said Cathy Cox, president of Young Harris College.

According to Cox, the summer school program in 2011 will continue as normal. Winshape Camps does not want exclusive access to the campus. They discussed ways in which the college and camp program can create multiple uses of the various facilities that already exist.

The campus will operate as usual during the summer, the camp will only occupy the Enotah Residence Hall, therefore no interference with YHC summer school or any other summer programs will occur.

According to Cox, YHC is studying alternatives to offer additional online or hybrid classes during the summer, so that YHC students who wish to take classes can remain at home if they prefer.

Also, YHC has made arrangements with Winshape to use the  auditoriums on campus in multiple ways for YHC’s use and for other visiting camps’ use. However, as of now, there are not any summer theatre programs that would need to be worked around.

“I think that it is fantastic that Winshape Camps is coming to Young Harris and that they want to use our auditoriums for a lot of reasons,” said Eddie Collins, chair of theatre at YHC.

“The more people that come to the campus will see how beautiful it is and what life is like here. We are hoping in the future to tie the theatre department into the camps,” Collins said.

The camps will begin in June 2011 and are scheduled for June 5-10, June 12-17, June 19-24 and June 26-July 1. The program is available for girls in the 1st grade through the 6th. The girls will be staying in the newest residence hall, Enotah Hall.

According to Cox, the cost of the camp has not been determined. The cost of the camp will remain a mystery  until after the first of the year when the Winshape Camp registration process is completed. The college typically charges a per day fee of $28 to $34 for every camper. The per camper fee depends on what facilities the camp has access to, and most camps make separate arrangements for food charges with the college’s food service provider.

Many students and faculty question the future status of the campus during the summer, and wonder if YHC will undergo any changes for the arrival of the camp. According to Cox, the campus will not see any changes; the only difference will be that there will be more young girls around. The only other difference will concern the housekeeping staff, who will need to continue to deep clean the Enotah Residence Hall during the summer.

According to Judy Gibson and Gwen Denton, two members of YHC’s housekeeping staff, since the campers will be residing in the Enotah Residence Hall, which takes longer to clean than the other dorms because of the way the floors need to be cleaned, this change will increase  the workload for the housekeeping staff. On top of the work schedule for the other residence halls on campus, the staff will be required to also thoroughly clean Enotah Hall for the camps.

“Winshape will make a difference in our work schedules. It will be interfering with our work because we will have to deep clean everything again after each camp,” said Denton. “It is a lot of work and the pay is the same. We do not receive extra pay.”

Not only does the college benefit from being chosen as the site for Winshape Camps, but the students of YHC benefit as well. According to Cox, the leaders of WinShape Camps would like to hire YHC students to staff the camps. A number of YHC students attended Winshape Camps as children, so now they have the ability to work at the camp they grew up around.

“All YHC students will ultimately benefit from the camps, though, because any revenue that is generated from the camps will help to keep tuition costs lower and enable YHC to offer strong scholarships to our regular students,” said Cox. “If we can fill rooms on campus during a summer that otherwise would be empty we are earning ‘auxiliary’ income which helps to pay the bills for the college’s overall operation–and that reduces the amount we have to cover with tuition and contributions.”

According to Cox, once the completion of the new student recreation and fitness center was accomplished, the decision was made by the camp and conference coordinator and the college’s administrators to pursue more summer camp opportunities for YHC.

However, according to Cox any input that students or faculty have about decision to incorporate more summer camps on campus is welcome. The decision conveniently worked out because Winshape Camps was looking to expand their program and Camp Conference Coordinator Brett Beazley was able to coordinate all the arrangements for the summer camp to expand to YHC’s campus.

 

SGA shown plans for new campus center

October 17, 2010 Comments off

By Carmen Brown, Staff Writer

On October 13, SGA’s weekly meeting was moved to Wilson Lecture Hall, which is located on the top floor in the Goolsby building.

There, Young Harris College President Cathy Cox gave a special presentation on the campus center project.  Young Harris College is planning to give students a brand new student center or campus center with a library and many other things all within this one new building.

As of right now, they are just approaching the completion of the construction plans and design phase. After the finances, construction plans and everything else is finalized, it will take a little over a year for the campus center to be built.

The new campus center will have enough space for everyone on campus to enjoy the space without feeling overcrowded.

Early plans for the campus center show that there will be something for everyone. On the lowest level there will be a game room, café and television lounge. Plans for the building indicate that the advising center, academic success center, QEP center and the writing center will all be moved to the second floor of the new campus center.  And, on the third floor there will be a room for banquets, the spring formal, special events and student clubs. Like the other buildings on campus, this building will be key card accessed.

Along with many expanded features, the student center will be getting a new name as well.

“We’re calling it the campus center because we believe this is where the center of student socialization on campus will be,” explained Cox.

YHC estimates that the total cost for the project will be $46.5 million. A gift of $20 million dollars has been asked for.  If the amount of $20 million received, it will hopefully bring other gifts of various dollar amounts to help with the remainder of the cost for this construction project.

Among other news, Tell-Me-Tuesday was a success this week and it will be happening again next week on Tuesday, October 19, so come prepared for questions and be sure to look for the cart.