Man Breaks into Schottenstein Hall, Sets Fires
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Dec. 21 to include details from FDNY’s press release and an email from YU Security. This is a developing story.
The Schottenstein Residence Hall on the Beren Campus was broken into in the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 20, and three small fires were set. Peter Weyand, 33, was arrested at the scene by Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Fire Marshals on charges of burglary, arson, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass, though officials are not charging the defendant with a hate crime at this time.
After kicking through the glass door of the dormitory, Weyand walked down the hallway of the lobby and used matches left out in the open to start three small fires, according to an FDNY press release. According to officials, the matches were intended to light Chanukah menorahs. Firefighters arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and extinguished the flames without injuries.
In an email to Beren students at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning, YU Security informed students of “an incident” that set off the fire alarm, adding that “an arrest was made and Security is working with the NYPD on next steps.” The email also emphasized that “there is no current threat to our residence hall or the campus.”
YU Security sent another email to YU students and faculty members, as well as parents of undergraduate students, on Saturday evening at 7:41 p.m., clarifying the incident following the coverage by media outlets that occurred over Saturday.
According to the email, an intruder approached the Security team at Schottenstein Residence Hall asking for help, at which point the Security team “immediately called 911 and did not let him into the building.” After kicking through the glass door, entering the building and running to the back lounge, the intruder “set a small fire with toilet paper.”
“The fire was extinguished immediately by the sprinkler system and the NYPD and FDNY were on site within minutes of the initial call,” YU Security wrote in the email. “A fire alarm went off and residents were instructed to stay in their rooms; after the intruder was arrested and the FDNY cleared the room, an all-clear announcement was issued.” According to the email, the investigation is “ongoing,” but the NYPD “concluded this was not a hate crime.” It reiterated that “there is no current threat to our campuses.”
On Saturday evening, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force tweeted, “While the arson at Yeshiva University is currently not believed to be a hate crime, the NYPD and HCTF are staying touch with FDNY until a final determination is made.”
Footage released by the FDNY shows a person kick the bottom pane of the glass door outside of the dormitory building and then walk away, only to return and kick the door several more times. The individual then pushed through the pane and crawled into the dorm lobby, picked up a telephone at the security desk and put it back.
According to multiple Stern College students residing in Schottenstein, fire alarms went off in the dormitory early in the morning and commotion ensued as students began to run down to the lobby. Students noticed the broken glass and overheard rumors from fellow residents that a burglar attempted to break into the building but were told by security guards to head back up to their rooms.
Fire alarms continued going off as students locked themselves in their rooms. Nearly a half-hour later, FDNY firefighters accessed the dorm’s public address system and notified students that the matter was under control. When students came down in the morning, they noticed the front door glass was shattered.
Automatic sprinklers were also activated in the newly-opened Schottenstein communal kitchen. The kitchen is currently functional, according to an email Beren Campus Director of University Housing and Residence Life Rachel Kraut sent to Schottenstein residents shortly after the incident was made public.
Communication deficiencies exacerbated the situation. “The lack of information we received for the first 15 minutes was more alarming than what was actually happening,” said one Schottenstein resident, who wished to remain anonymous. Resident advisers were not formally notified of the attempted break-in.
Shortly before Shabbat, Kraut sent an email to Schottenstein residents to assuage concerns. Kraut contended that the university does not believe the matter was a targeted hate crime, and that YU Security “worked to make sure this was resolved quickly,” adding that guards “called  immediately.” No students were in the lounge at the time of the incident, according to Kraut.
Schottenstein resident Dani Lane (SCW ‘21) remarked, “the situation was really confusing and a little scary due to the lack of information but I really appreciate the quick response of YU’s security, the NYPD and FDNY.”
According to the suspect’s LinkedIn page, Weyand was working as a freelance software developer prior to the incident. On Thursday, Dec. 19, the day before the incident, Weyand posted on LinkedIn, “They're trying to make a martyr of me, but I'm no martyr. I'm a helper and a doer. I want to help people but I dont know how.”
Several hours prior to that post, Weyand wrote, “Killing is the old way. If you want to move forward in the world you must find a way to love and respect other people that doesnt involve violence. We need everyone to get together and realize that we are just a bunch of monkeys sitting under trees. And...just because you have more toys, that doesn't make you better than the little guy.”
“Attacking any religious institution is a serious crime and we have zero tolerance for acts of arson in this city,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement. “Thanks to the thorough investigative work of our Fire Marshals, a dangerous individual has been quickly apprehended.”
As of the time of publication, the FDNY’s Office of Public Information and the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries.
Jacob Rosenfeld and Avi Hirsch contributed to this story.
Photo caption: The front door was repaired on Friday.
Photo credit: Dani Lane