Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 18
 
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
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When Bad Things Happen in Good Places

Stuart Mitchner

One week before Communiversity, at the Woodrow Wilson School’s Campus Safety Conference marking the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, Princeton University Sociology Professor Katherine S. Newman presented a paper entitled “Why Terrible Things Happen in ‘Perfect’ Places” The talk was based on her findings after two years of examining school shootings.

Early that same Saturday a party at Wilcox Hall on campus erupted into what Borough police described as a “melee” set off when a female reportedly rejected the sexual advances of one of a group of three off-campus party crashers, and was struck in the face and shoved to the ground. When two other students tried to intervene they were attacked by the three men, who were eventually found and arrested. According to the police report, “The torso, back and face of the 20-year-old male were kicked and stomped on and the 18-year-old female was struck in the face.”

The following Tuesday a teenage girl was allegedly accosted and harassed by a 19-year-old male while walking on Terhune Road. Arrested soon after at the Princeton Shopping Center, the accused admitted making the lewd comments, but denied striking the teenager, Township police reported. He was taken into custody, charged with simple assault and harassment, and later released on his own recognizance.

Two days later in the MarketFair Barnes & Noble parking lot, another familiar Princeton locale, a 32-year-old Borough man with no arrest record stabbed a 20-year-old Plainsboro woman, a fellow nursing student at Mercer County College he’d been dating. As she fled into the store, he turned the knife on himself. An hour later Shane Kinney, a 1993 graduate of Princeton High School, died at the regional trauma center at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton. The woman, Heather Markel, was also taken to Fuld, is recovering, and in stable condition.

On Saturday, while Mr. Kinney’s family and friends were still trying to cope with an event they found completely inexplicable, and while Princeton was celebrating Communiversity, Borough police charged a 19-year-old Princeton University freshman named Malik Little with kidnapping, aggravated assault, endangerment of an injured victim, and making terroristic threats related to incidents that allegedly occurred on campus, according to Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Devenny.

Harold Kusher’s 1981 best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, was inspired by the question he asked himself when his son was diagnosed with a fatal disease, simply, “Why?” The same one-word question haunts everyone who knew and loved Shane Kinney. To his mother, Tina Clement, he was “a gentle giant.” A friend called him “one of the funniest, friendliest little kids trapped in the body of a big kid you would every meet.” The depth and range of his life can be gauged in his obituary (see page 48). At Princeton High School he played football and ice hockey (and was honored as “the most improved player”); he was the bassist in a garage band called the Bunk Beds and built his own guitar; he had degrees from the New York Institute of Audio Research and a BA from Northeastern University. Like so many others, he was galvanized by the September 11 attacks. Residing in Brooklyn at the time, he photographed the ash-covered refugees from the scene streaming over the Brooklyn Bridge. Moved by what he’d witnessed, he turned his life in the direction of health care, a life-changing decision to help others, which is why he was halfway through a nursing course at Mercer County Community College and commuting every week to Philadelphia as a much-admired aide in the emergency room of Temple University Hospital. This was where his life was when everything unraveled in the Barnes & Noble parking lot.

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“Why” is also the question haunting the family and friends of Malik Little, who came to Princeton from Sacramento, California. An online posting describes the scholarship student as a musician “who has always been told that with God all things are possible.” This belief, the posting continues, “in combination with the inspirational support of his family” is what drives Malik to succeed, despite the absence of his father and the large inconvenience of relocating several times.” According to the site (www.questbridge.org/students/profiles_class2011/little_malik.html), Mr. Little “believes strongly in giving back to his community,” was the pianist for his church, gave free piano lessons to children, and took part in numerous performances with the Athenaeum Singers, a jazz trio, CD Project, and Show Band of his school. He also won his school’s mock gubernatorial election, and has considered entering politics, although his career goal was to become an investment banker and professional musician. In Sacramento he reportedly played piano, at 17, at Calvary Christian Center, performing holiday tunes for the “congregation of thousands.”

This is the same young man who allegedly attacked and abused his 18-year girl friend, also a Princeton freshman, kicking and striking her in a March 9 incident in his dormitory room.

Meanwhile Princeton University’s handling of the situation following the reporting of the March 9 attack was criticized during Mr. Little’s bail hearing. Ironically, the University is being accused of neglect related to one of the questions raised during the Campus Safety Conference. Based on the example of Virginia Tech, why, given the warning signs, was the tragedy not prevented? And what can be learned from it for the future? “The key is to act quickly upon an initial report of concern, see who else has a piece of the puzzle, then pull all the information together to see what picture emerges,” said conference participant Marisa Randazzo, a Princeton graduate and the founder of Threat Assessment International.

Cass Cliatt, a spokeswoman for Princeton, defended the University. “The University’s actions in this matter were timely, and effectively responded to the many complicated aspects of this case,” she said. “A situation like this evolves over time and it received the full attention of offices across campus to ensure the students involved were supported and felt secure. As various individuals on campus became aware of elements of this situation, they became responsive. Now that it has arisen to a criminal matter, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t been taking extensive measures to protect the complainant, secure her safety, and counsel her and serve her needs.”

Ms. Cliatt pointed out that Malik Little “has not been enrolled since earlier this month. He is no longer enrolled as of April 10. If he comes to campus, he would be taken into custody for violating a temporary restraining order.”

Malik Little’s story will be covered as it develops. Shane Kinney’s story will never end as far as his family and friends are concerned. They will celebrate his life next Saturday in the open air at Rosedale Park off Federal City Road in Hopewell Township.

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