By Michael O’Shea
On Monday, October 20 at 7:45 am, WCU maintenance workers found a dead black bear cub placed in front of the Catamount statue outside the H.F.R. administration building in the roundabout on Western Carolina University’s campus and immediately notified campus police. Two stolen Barack Obama campaign signs were found duct-taped together to form a bag which had been placed over the bear cub’s head. According to Lieutenant Kent Davis of campus police, police originally thought the bear had been shot in the right eye and had been dead for at least 24 hours before being found. After further examination, authorities now believe that the bear’s skull had been shattered when it was hit by a car.
As of 4:30 pm on Tuesday, October 22, seven WCU students had been identified as being involved in the incident and were in police custody being interviewed. Police were not initially certain as to whether or not there were any political or racial motives involved; however, after interviewing most of the students, authorities have concluded that the incident was not politically or racially motivated but was rather a “prank.”
WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo issued the following statement through the WCU Public Relations department: “I am pleased to hear that this situation appears to be a stupid prank. I am disappointed in the extremely poor judgment demonstrated by these young people. I hope that this intolerable incident can serve as a learning moment for them and for others, one that reminds us that we must respect one another’s opinions and we should not jump to conclusions without first having all the facts.”
Campus police and the WCU administration have made all official statements through the WCU Public Relations department. According to the official press release on Tuesday, October 22, authorities have ascertained through their interviews with some of the involved students that several of the them were camping in a forested area off campus when they stumbled across the dead body of the bear while searching for firewood late Saturday night, October 18.
The students loaded bear into the back of a pick-up truck and continued their camping trip. According to the Public Relations department, the students arrived at “a social gathering” at The Summit on Sunday night, October 19 with the bear in the back of the truck. The students then reportedly struck up a conversation with several other individuals about what to do with the animal, one of them suggesting they place it at the base of the Catamount statue at the main entrance of campus.
According to authorities, on the drive from The Summit, which is located across from the main entrance to campus on the other side of HWY 107, the students took random political signs to put over the bear’s head in an effort to cover the head wound and prevent blood from spilling into the bed of the truck. The students then dumped the bear into the center of the roundabout at the entrance to campus at about 2:40 am on Monday, October 20 and returned to their apartment.
The students reportedly told Police Chief Tom Johnson that their actions were not politically or racially motivated. According to the Public Relations department, “one of the students involved in the incident is African-American.”
As of the date of publication, no official charges have been filed by authorities in the incident and none of the names of the suspects or photos of the scene of the incident have been released. Campus law enforcement officers and N.C. Wildlife Resources agents will discuss their findings with the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges would be appropriate. According to N.C. Wildlife officials, it is bear season and the cub weighed 75 lbs, above the 50 lbs minimum.
On Thursday, October 23, brothers Marvin Caleb Williams, 20, of Wilksboro, and Mathew Colton Williams, 18, of Scott Residence Hall, Cullowhee, were formally charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and a wildlife act without a license or permit. They were served with the citations, similar to traffic tickets according to the Citizen-Times, by police. Their court date is November 18.
On Wednesday, October 22 at noon Chancellor Bardo spoke to a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and staff assembled on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center about the “inappropriate behavior” and “poor judgment” of the seven students involved in the incident.
“This was a very inappropriate action taken by seven members of the university community. I don’t know, and we may never know, what their real motives were. I cannot look into their hearts.”
Regardless of their motivation, the students “should have been able to understand the consequences of their actions for themselves as individuals, for their families and for this university community,” he continued.
“Unequivocally, what they did was wrong. Regardless of motivation, it was wrong,” Bardo said. “What also is very real is that seven members of this university community did something that was wrong. 9000 members of this university community did not do that. We are not going to allow seven people to define who you are. You are better than that. You are Western Carolina University.”
Bardo reminded the crowd that the university has a code of conduct and a creed centered on core values of respect for others, and the desire and ability to debate and discuss differences in a civil and meaningful way.
Chancellor Bardo did not respond to a request for an interview with the Western Carolinian.