STOW — Police are working with the FBI and Kent State University in the investigation of an alleged anti-Semitic incident at a Route 59 store in early May, Police Capt. Bryan Snavely said Thursday.
"The matter’s still under investigation so I can’t give out too much detail," said Snavely, who declined to identify the man because he has not been charged. "However, we received a report back on May 3 that a male entered the Dollar General on Kent Road and made some concerning comments. No direct threats but comments that were concerning and we are investigating the matter further and looking into whether or not a crime occurred in Stow."
A police report includes few details, but identifies the "bias/motivation" in the incident as "Anti-Jewish intimidation."
"He asked the clerk if she knew how to get to KSU and he referenced KSU in his comments," said Snavely, adding "He did have a hatchet and what was described as a sword on his person at the time.
"He has been identified and he is in custody [in Stark County] on unrelated charges," said Snavely.
In a statement emailed to the Record-Courier on Thursday, KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield said the university is aware of the situation.
"On May 3, Kent State University Police reacted immediately to reports that a local man’s behavior created concerns of anti-Semitism against our campus community," wrote Mansfield. "Our officers worked with local and national law enforcement to identify this person, who was later jailed on an unrelated matter. At no time was this person on our campus on that day, nor did he make any direct statements that he intended harm. However, we take all threats, real or perceived, seriously as the safety of our entire campus community is our first priority. Our commitment to support all groups who call Kent State home is unwavering, and we stand firm in our core values of kindness and respect in all we do."
Adam Hirsh, executive director of Hillel at Kent State University, said the Jewish student organization became aware of the incident the next day, but is not involved in the investigation.
"We were notified the morning of May 4 of the incident in Stow and immediately contacted our partners in the Jewish community and other law enforcement partners to make sure that we felt that our students on campus, our staff and facility were all safe and secure because we didn’t know if there was a threat to our physical harm at the time and a threat to our physical well being at the time," said Hirsh. "From there we left it up to law enforcement. We're thankful to our community to keep us in the loop as best they could. And with campus being closed, our facility was already locked down and there were no activities going on so that put us at ease."
Hirsh added, "Our responsibility is to ensure, as best we can, a safe and healthy environment for Jewish students on campus."
According to a written statement from Hillel, the organization has collaborated with law enforcement agencies and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s security provider — JFC Security, LLC – to put "proven, best-practice security protocols in place that enable us to respond to potential security threats effectively."
The statement also says students and staff never had any "direct contact with the suspect."
"There is a lot of unfounded hate in the world," says the statement. "Hillel works to build relationships and hold conversations about issues that divide us. There are also some people that refuse to talk and operate with levels of hatred that we will never understand. That is scary.
"We are deeply appreciative of those who do work with us to bridge these divides, as well as the many caring people who look out for their neighbors – such as the store employee who notified the police about this individual. We also are thankful for those who put their lives at risk every day to keep us safe and protected."
A call made to the FBI’s Cleveland office seeking information and comment was not immediately returned.
Editor’s note: Reporter Krista Kano contributed to this story.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.