A college prank may be at the root of a desperate search for missing Pennsylvania college student Jacob Marberger and fear about whether he is armed and his intentions.
Police in Marberger's hometown of Cheltenham confirmed Tuesday the 19-year-old was last seen Monday morning at a Wal-Mart in Berks County after leaving his parents’ Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, home with a gun case, and possibly a gun.
The FBI joined the search for Marberger on Tuesday as Chestertown police announced there was a warrant out for his arrest on four misdemeanor weapons-related charges.
In Chestertown, Maryland, where Marberger was a proud member of Washington College's student government, the school closed "until further notice" Tuesday, sending everyone home until Marberger is found.
As school and law enforcement officials explained their decision to lockdown and then close campus — even though Marberger has made no direct threats — reasons Marberger may be distraught began to emerge.
The timeline starts Oct. 7 with a prank by other students that left Jacob hurt and humiliated, according to the school's public safety director, Jerry Roderick.
"Someone had placed a trash can full of water against his dorm room door, so when he opened the door, the water came into his room. He felt very hurt by that and he saw this as (people) reaching out to ridicule him in some way," Roderick explained. "In speaking to Jacob, he did feel persecuted by several students on campus."
Two days later, Marberger, who began collecting unique guns about a year ago, brandished an unloaded, antique rifle in front of some other students, according to college president Sheila Bair, who said Marberger may have been intoxicated.
"That gun was unloaded. He was not pointing it at anybody, he was not threatening anybody. I want to make that clear," Bair said.
More than two weeks passed before school police received an anonymous tip about the alleged gun incident. They questioned Marberger on Oct. 23. No weapon was found. Four days later, police were told there'd been a gun in the building where Marberger lived. On Oct. 29, they found an antique .22 rifle, seven-shot revolver, at a house off campus. They confronted Marberger a second time. He was temporarily suspended until a forensic psychologist cleared him to return to school, saying he was not a threat to himself or others.
Last week, Marberger spent his first seven days back on campus in what his father, Jon, described as a difficult week. He'd been kicked out of his fraternity, faced an Honor Board hearing that could still mean expulsion and was then confronted Sunday night by members of his student government group. Jacob Marberger resigned his elected position as speaker of the senate.
"Now when feel like you’ve tarnished the image of the student government and it’s a fine group of people and he tried very hard," the elder Marberger said, adding the position meant a lot to his son, "but with the rumors going around, it was a bit of self sacrifice."
At some point overnight, Jacob Marberger made the drive home to Cheltenham, which would have taken a little over two hours. He arrived after 3 a.m. Monday and by 4. a.m. he was gone. His parents awoke to find a rifle case missing, but didn't know if a gun was inside the case. When Jacob Marberger didn't answer his cell phone, his father called the school, which went on lockdown out of "an abundance of caution."
Meanwhile, Jacob Marberger's former high school, Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, said security officials and police are keeping a close eye on the situation. The school went into "lockout" mode Monday amid the search for Jacob Marberger and remained on alert Tuesday.
Cheltenham officials have yet to directly name Jacob Marberger but said the 19-year-old student in question was a graduate.
Jacob Marberger's father, who is begging for his son's safe return, said no one in the family has heard from him.
"Our only plea is if Jacob hears or sees this, please come home," Jon Marberger told NBC10 of his only child, whom he said has close relationships with both parents.
Washington College has asked anyone who knew his whereabouts to call the college at 410-778-7810 or Chestertown police at 410-778-1800.