c/o Caleb Henning

c/o Caleb Henning

Three shots were fired from a BB gun at two west-facing windows of a classroom in the Van Vleck Observatory (VVO) sometime before Thursday, Feb. 8. The shots were reported to the Office of Public Safety (PSafe) on Friday, Feb. 9 after they were discovered by Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield. There are no suspects at this time and no details about the exact date or time of the shots, but they likely occurred overnight, when VVO was unoccupied.

A BB gun—or a bullet ball gun, referring to the type of projectiles it shoots—is a type of airsoft gun that is not typically very dangerous, but shots from them kill around four people per year. In recent years, students at the University have been shot with BB guns: one incident occurred on Cross Street on Feb. 20, 2022, and was reported to the community in an all-campus email, and on Nov. 9, 2019, students were fired at while moving a table outside their Low Rise apartment.

“The projectiles from, I think, a couple years ago now were those gel rounds, which is a harder foam product,” Director of PSafe Scott Rohde said. “We also had incidents of people hanging out of cars squirting people with squirt guns. So those things have happened. I don’t know that they happened last year; I think the previous year we had a rash of them in spring. BBs [are] very unusual.” 

The VVO windows are made up of three layers—an outdoor screen, an outer window, and an inner window—and all of the projectiles were able to pierce through the outdoor screen and outer windows. One bullet also managed to nick the inner window, which has since been taped over to prevent further damage. One of the damaged windows has two holes and the other has just one. PSafe officers were able to recover the three BBs.

“The window itself wasn’t completely shattered, but there’s a small hole, and it looks like it occurred where somebody was standing probably outside, some distance away from the observatory windows,” Director of PSafe Scott Rohde said.

There are currently no suspects for the incident, and the red lighting around VVO—which is used to prevent light pollution from interfering with their observing equipment—makes it difficult to see people around that area during the nighttime. At this time, PSafe does not believe that a University student is involved in the incident as BB guns are not allowed under the University’s weapons policy.

Although it has been a few years since this type of vandalism has happened at the University, this is not the first time that a window has been damaged in a science building. The last major window-breaking incident occurred when a window was shattered in the Elling Laboratory in Hall-Atwater Laboratories on Oct. 2, 2022. However, this type of damage is rare on campus.

“We don’t get a lot of vandalism to buildings,” Rohde said. “Maybe here and there [a] window or some spray paint or something, but it’s not that common, and certainly not shooting.”

While vandalism on campus is uncommon, the VVO has been a target for vandalism over the past year, including two incidents last semester during their space nights, which are public events open to the entire Middletown community and usually take place on Wednesdays.

“It’s hard to know whether or not it’s related, but we did have a couple of vandalism incidents in the fall of this year at the observatory specifically,” Astronomy Department Chair Meredith Hughes said. “We had a fire alarm pulled during a public event and we also had an incident where somebody wrote a profanity on the walls of our bathroom in poop. So it’s hard to know if it’s part of a pattern.” 

In response to the most recent vandalism incident, PSafe will be increasing its presence around the VVO, especially during space nights and other public events. The Astronomy Department will be reporting all of their evening events to PSafe for the rest of the semester to prevent further incidents.

Because the damage to the windows is structural, Physical Plant will need to replace them completely. The Astronomy Department has reached out to PSafe to start this process and repairs are in the works.

“It’s similar to a crack in your windshield because the stability and the support of the glass is compromised,” Rohde said. “It could be fine; it could track further and cause breakage. So we would always recommend replacement.” 

Despite the vandalism, the Astronomy Department continues to hold public events for the Middletown community. All are welcome to attend and learn about outer space.

“I keep thinking to myself that whoever did it, I wish they would just leave their BB gun at home one day and come look at Jupiter with us through a telescope and maybe they would get a different outlook on life,” Hughes said.

Caleb Henning can be reached at chenning@wesleyan.edu.