A 19-year-old woman with a Mohawk haircut spread out a tarp in the middle of the Penn State University campus Tuesday and opened fire with a rifle, killing one student and wounding another before she was tackled while trying to reload.
Jillian Robbins, a hunter with Army Reserve training who acquaintances said had a history of mental problems and was known as “Crazy Jill,” was hospitalized in serious condition with a stab wound suffered in a struggle with the student who came to the rescue and knocked her down.
No immediate charges were filed against Robbins, who is a longtime resident of State College but not a student.
Police gave no motive for the shooting and said Robbins did not know her victims.
Robbins positioned herself in front of the student union and fired off at least five shots from her rifle, a Mauser with a telescopic sight, around 9:30 a.m., police said. Hundreds of frightened students and teachers scattered across the lawn outside the Hetzel Union Building, one of the campus’ busiest areas.
A book in one student’s backpack stopped a bullet.
Aerospace engineering student Brendon Malovrh noticed smoke, ran over and tackled Robbins as she was putting in a second ammunition clip, police said.
As the two struggled, Robbins pulled a knife from her purse and tried to stab Malovrh, stabbing herself in the leg instead, police said. Malovrh quickly took off his belt and fashioned a tourniquet on Robbins.
In front of them lay a dead Melanie Spalla, 19, of Altoona. Nicholas Mensah, 27, of Philadelphia, had been shot once in the abdomen. He was in stable condition.
“This is a high-traffic area, where lots of people ride their bikes. It’s freaky to know this happened here. But I guess this is where you want to do it if you want to kill someone,” said Jessica Ohrum, 20, of East Berlin.
Acquaintances who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Robbins had a history of mental problems, once spending time in a hospital.
They said she had been married and divorced in the past year and had tried to commit suicide last month. Friends said she hoped to become an artist.
Fellow employees at a diner-bakery where she had worked a year ago called her “Crazy Jill.”
Campus Police Chief David Stormer said Robbins had Army Reserve training, and a friend said she liked to hunt.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.