Campus responds to news of student arrest
March 1 2018
Freshman Sion Park, a student living in Fischer at the time, was arrested Thursday, Feb.22 and is being held in custody at the DuPage County Jail. He has since been charged with two counts of residential burglary and posted his bail, which was set at $100,000. This is a Class 1 felony in the State of Illinois because of the school setting and usually carries a three to seven year sentencing after trial. Park appeared in front of Judge Robert Miller Wednesday night. Park is no longer a student, and it is unclear whether he withdrew or was expelled.
Park was arrested for the theft of several iPhones, a watch and a MacBook Air on several Traber floors throughout the semester. Park is accused of entering unlocked rooms and taking personal property with a total value amount of over $1,000. Once Wheaton officials were made aware that Park was responsible for the thefts, the information was given to the Wheaton Police Department who then took Park in for investigation and arrest. Vice President of Student Development Paul Chelsen told the Chicago Tribune that “Wheaton College is committed to promoting a safe and healthy campus environment for all members of the community … We are concerned by these allegations and will continue to cooperate with authorities.”
Park is an American citizen from New York who grew up in South Korea. Park’s parents are currently living in China, and since bail was posted before his sentencing, Park’s passport will be revoked. A friend of Park’s, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of harassment, has been in contact with him since the arrests and says that she is afraid for him and had a hard time believing that her friend and the thief were the same person.
“First I was really shocked. First, his name was misspelled in the Tribune, so I was like, maybe it’s not him, maybe. I was just in denial — it was a complete shock,” said a Smith resident and friend of Park. “… I’m still conflicted between thoughts of how reckless and stupid do you have to be going around and stealing that, but also it was so out of character that there must be an explanation, because if he wanted it for money he would have sold it by now — he wouldn’t have let it just sit there … He has everything he needs for electronics … I just don’t understand why he would do that.” She stated that she does not know why Park was inclined to steal but that there must be “more to the story.”
Some of Park’s other friends who have been in contact with him since his arrest have said that he is afraid and remorseful for what he has done. One friend commented that “He is really scared because his parents are in China, and he is here alone … [Park] just prayed a lot because he knows he is a sinner … All he could do was just pray and ask for forgiveness.”
Friends of Park stated that, although they themselves were shocked at Park’s arrest, they were also uneasy at the responses they have encountered from other Wheaton students. One friend described an encounter with the students affected by the robberies as indicative of the College’s response as a whole, stating that “the general dynamic and narrative in Wheaton is not very forgiving toward this type of situation.” Although she stated that this is not the entirety or majority of what she has experienced on campus, the freshman recounted that “there are certain parts of the community that are giving a very negative narrative. People are like ‘oh, it must be someone of color, it must be someone Asian, like, white people would never do this,’ and I was just shocked.”
Following the thefts, there has been “both relief and heightened awareness” in freshman dorms, according to a Smith RA, who requested to remain anonymous out of concern for her opinion. “The other RA’s said that they didn’t have to worry as much now that [Park] is caught,” she told the Record. “Everyone has their guard down because they think the one person stealing has been caught, so they stopped locking doors and stuff, but that is making them more vulnerable.” Although Park has been arrested, she believes he is not the sole responsible party for thefts reported in Traber. The Smith-Traber RA’s have been keeping a spreadsheet of what has been stolen from each floor and when the theft was suspected to occur. The Smith RA stated that “it didn’t account for the cash being stolen”, referring to the multiple thefts of cash amounts ranging from $20 to $1,000 being stolen from unlocked rooms. “When we heard that [Park] was from a different building, we were surprised because we knew money out of wallets was being stolen, and I feel that you have to be around to know where the wallet is,” she explained.
A report on the spreadsheet noted that one student actually saw someone walk into their room one morning while sleeping. The same Smith RA told the Record “the reason why [the RA’s] are thinking that there’s someone else that’s playing into this is because a lot of what was on the list has been reported to be stolen after chapel time, or they assume that it is. There was one student in Traber that was sleeping during chapel time and he woke up to a stranger coming into his room, but it did not fit the description of [Park].”
At this time, there are no plans to change dorm surveillance, according to Chelsen. He stated that, as a college community, Wheaton “remains committed to promoting a safe environment in [its] residence halls.” Although there are no supplementary security measures in place, Chelsen stated that “the best defense for students is to lock their doors when they are not in their rooms and to not leave valuables unattended in public places.”