Oneonta Safety: Then vs. Now

SUNY Oneonta

Jessica Kennedy, Contributing Writer |

Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual abuse and violence.

On Dec. 9, 1977, SUNY Oneonta freshman, Linda Velzy, disappeared without a trace. She left her boyfriend’s place after making plans with him for later that night, and then headed back to campus. However, she didn’t make it back to her room.

The Oneonta Public Transit (OPT) buses ran on a limited schedule in 1977, so instead of walking to where they needed to go, many students opted to hitchhiking. Without available transportation, students often took the risk of getting rides from strangers, for Linda Velzy, this gamble did not go in her favor.

Forty-two years ago, ex-convict Richard Knapp picked up Velzy off the side of the road, and instead of taking her to where she needed to go, Knapp kidnapped and murdered the Oneonta State freshman. Knapp wasn’t arrested until January 1, 1978, when he moved Velzy’s body to bury her in an alternate spot. However, Knapp wasn’t convicted until June of 1978 due to the court’s inability to bring up his past rape charges, which he did jail-time for. The court struggled to place a correct charge on the murderer, and Velzy’s parents described the efforts to find their daughter as “lax policework.”

In February of 1978, the SUNY Oneonta residents urged OPT to extend its running time by two and a half hours, ending at 7:30 p.m. instead of 5:00p.m. This change was made and student hitchhiking rates decreased as the OPT new availability gave students a safer way to travel.

Since this murder, many changes have been made to ensure student safety both on and off campus. Over forty years later, SUNY Oneonta students now have even better travel conditions with the public transportation hours running past midnight. OPT also has two busses running from Main Street to the SUCO campus during the week, providing students with safe and reliable transportation.

Students also have access to 34 Blue-Light Phones scattered around the campus. These illuminated poles are easy to spot and access in case of an emergency. If a campus resident is walking alone and feels unsafe or sees suspicious activity, they can press the button on one of these poles and have a University Police officer escort them to where they want to go or investigate the suspicious activity. On their website, SUNY Oneonta has a detailed list of ways for its students to stay safe, and what they can do in case of emergency.

The murder of Linda Velzy brought numerous campus safety issues to light. The modifications made to transportation and the safety procedures put into effect keep students safer than they have been before on the SUNY Oneonta campus. These changes, as well as the work of our University Police, will hopefully ensure what happened to Linda Velzy does not happen again.

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