String of Petty Thefts on Campus, Suspects in Custody

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By Adria Walker


Rachel Bravenec, a senior chemistry and psychology double major, frequently conducts her research in the Chemistry labs on the weekends when there is break in her busy schedule. Usually, Bravenec works late into the night—until 7 or 8 p.m.

Sunday evening was no different.

Bravenec says she left the chemistry office at around 5 p.m. to use the restroom and check on something in one of the chemistry professor’s office—in total, she estimates she was gone for eight minutes. “When I (made it) back, the door was open and all my stuff was just gone,” she said.

She says that suspect(s) stole her backpack, keys, credit cards, ID and other items.

After checking to see if the thief was still on the hall, Bravenec called campus security. Officer John Thomas arrived and swept the area. The suspect(s) had left the building by then, so, at the suggestion of Thomas, Bravenec filed a report with the Jackson Police Department.

Though her backpack was recovered, Bravenec says it was empty, but for her keys and a few cards. Still, the comfort that sense of security she had on campus is gone.

“It’s kind of terrifying to know that even with the security guards we do have around and the fences, it’s still easy to access,” she said. “…It’s scary to know that I was within like a few minute window of maybe having a physical confrontation with somebody, and that’s not even a position you want to be in.”

After Officer Thomas responded to Bravenec’s call, he called John Conway, director of campus safety. “We wanted to make sure that her ID wasn’t used in an unauthorized way,” Conway said.

To disable the ID, Conway, who was off campus at the time, drove to campus. In the approximate 45 minutes it took for the theft, contact with security, and Conway’s arrival, the ID hadn’t been used. Still, using his computers, Conway deactivated the ID.

An hour later, Conway says Thomas called him again—this time because a student had interacted with one of the suspects.

Christopher Cunningham, a junior music major, had been in the music department since 11am Sunday morning. By 7pm that night, when he was taking a break from practicing, he noticed the music lounge’s door was closed and the lights were off.

“(It) was weird, because we leave the lights on… So I’m like, this is suspicious. As I walk forward, a girl walking out with (my backpack),” Cunningham  said.

He stopped the woman and told her that he realized she was taking his backpack. She gave it back. Cunnigham says he noticed that she was also carrying a black trash bag with things in it. “She was very calm and sat down and called people–or pretended to call people… I go to get Angela Powell who is also practicing to get her stuff,” he said.

While he and Powell talked, Cunningham says head of the music department Rachel Heard entered the practice room and advised him to call campus security.

By the time security arrived, Heard says the woman had left. “We walked out together and we were standing in the garage under the AC  (Academic Complex)… We were talking with the security guard… (and) Christopher heard (the woman), coming out,” she said.

After security searched and interrogated the woman, Christopher says he went back upstairs. Around 9 p.m., he says a freshman noticed his ukulele was missing. “We come back down and by this point, there are three JPD cars (and) stuff laid out  under the AC,”  he said.

Conway says the woman, a former Millsaps student, and her accomplice, a male friend whom Conway apprehended, had stolen several books from the Academic Complex, a saxophone, a ukulele, materials from the art studios, a National Geographic book from the library, a computer from the Academic Complex and Bravenec’s belongings.

Using an inconspicuous SUV parked under the Academic Complex as their base, Conway says the two suspects posed as students to enter and canvas the campus. On apprehension, he found that both suspects were carrying pocket knives, though no one on campus was harmed. In arresting the suspects, Conway says he was able to close five open petty theft cases.

In light of the robberies, Heard says the music department will be reinforcing security measures. She highlights the importance of students being vigilant, and keeping up with their belongings.

Conway  says that property theft, a periodic occurrence, is almost completely avoidable. “Keep up with your things. Lock your doors… Call security (at 601-974-1234) to report anything suspicious,” he said.