It is a common assumption amongst Carleton students that Northfield is a sleepy and idyllic small town, safe and free of crime.
It was a surprise to most students, then, to receive an email from the Dean of Students Office and Campus Security alerting them to the robbery and assault of a student off-campus.
As the email to students reported, “a male Carleton student was walking home alone to his campus residence from an off-campus house when he was surprised by three young adult males who jumped from their vehicle, physically attacked him, and stole his wallet,” early in the morning of Sunday, Jan. 6. According to the report filed by the Northfield police, “at about 1:12 a.m., Northfield Police Officers were dispatched to the intersection of 4th Street and Union Street … on a report that a male had been assaulted and robbed. It was reported that the male had been kicked in the head, robbed and was bleeding from his nose.”
The student, whose face was badly beaten, told police that he had been robbed by three people. The police determined the suspects had fled to a nearby apartment building and the police were able to apprehend the three suspects there.
The suspects include two 17-year-old males and Nicholas Tenhoff, age 26 of Northfield.
All three were intoxicated. Tenhoff has been charged with first-degree aggravated robbery, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, a $35,000 fine, or both. He was also charged with assault in the third degree, carrying a maximum sentence of five years, a $10,000 fine, or both.
The student was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center due to the extent of his injuries. He was released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon and was reported to be planning to return to classes this week.
While Carleton was not involved in responding initially to the incident as it occurred off-campus, Associate Dean of Students Julie Thornton said the college has been working with the student and his parents since.
“The student’s parents contacted security directly after the incident,” Thornton said. “I was contacted by security and communicated non-stop with the parents for the next day. I made contact with the hospital to find out what the student needed. From the college standpoint we also wanted to make sure we communicated with his friends who were affected by it. His family arrived later Sunday and took over.”
Thornton next went about informing Carleton of the incident. “We knew it was important to alert the community. Had the campus been in danger we would have handled things differently,” she said. “We knew that no one was in harm’s way anymore so we waited and drafted the email on Monday morning.”
While Thornton says an incident like this has not occurred before in her memory, there was a rise in reports of verbal harassment of students by community members last year. Security has also had to respond to reports of theft.
Despite this, Thornton does not think students should worry about Northfield being unsafe. “I don’t think we can just ignore [the incident] but this is pretty isolated,” she said.
However, she added, “We take for granted that we live in a small community and small campus and we assume nothing like this will happen. It takes something like this to remind us to be cautious.”
Thornton urges students not to be alone late at night. She also reminds students that general precautions like locking doors and windows are important.
Thornton hopes that this incident can spark a conversation amongst the college and the community about safety. After the incident occurred, “A city council member called to see how the police had responded. We were very pleased to say the police were outstanding in the way they responded and how they’ve helped the student and the family,” she said.
The city council member asked what could be done about these sorts of crimes. Thornton said, “We should discuss ways to stay safe and work together. Nothing broke down in the situation but there are ways to better inform our community about how to reduce risk, avoid harm and hold community members to a higher level.”
“The good news is that the student is improving and is still at Carleton. It really could have been a terrible situation. But he is lucky and we are lucky that he is okay in the grand scheme of things,” she concluded.