Maryland college shuts down in wake of Jewish teenager’s disappearance


It has been less than 24 hours since 75 people attended an emotional candlelight vigil at the synagogue where Jacob Marberger was once Bar Mitvahed, since the waiting and worrying resumed at his parents’ home north of the city.

That vigil has been going on since 7:30 a.m. Nov. 16, when the 19-year-old Marberger, a sophomore at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., was spotted on a security camera at a Hamburg, Pa., Wal-Mart, where he was believed to be buying ammunition for a rifle he allegedly took from his parents’ house. That led to Washington deciding to close the campus and remain shut until after the Thanksgiving break — a 12-day stretch. In the interim, there’s been no contact from the 2014 graduate of Cheltenham High School or activity on his cell phone since he left the Wal-Mart.

Rabbi Robert S. Leib, of Old York Road Temple Beth Am in Abington, Pa., who has known the Marbergers both personally and professionally for 15 years, said he was notified Wednesday afternoon that Jacob’s former middle school teacher was attempting to organize a candlelight vigil. Karen Shaffron had contacted several synagogues in the area before reaching the synagogue, not even aware the Marbergers had been longtime members there until recently.

“We had nothing to do with the vigil, other than hosting it,” Leib said. “But we were not prepared to host without the blessing of the Marbergers. I reached out to the family and eventually received approval.”

Not only that, but Jacob’s father, Dr. Jon Marberger, attended the vigil Wednesday night and read a statement urging his son to come home.

“You have no reason not to come home,” the father said. “Please come home and show yourself. Jacob, wherever you are, whatever discretions you have done, they are all recoverable.”

On Thursday, the father stopped by his Glenside optometry office. “All we hope and pray for is the safe return of our son,” he said softly.

“It was quite astounding so many people came on such short notice,” Leib said of the previous night’s vigil. “Rest assured, the Jacob Marberger we know never has given any indication of being someone who could be a threat to himself or others. He’s always been an outstanding young man.

“I’m still very close to both his parents, even though they’re no longer members here,” added the rabbi. “All I can tell you is how they’re always extolling their love and pride about their son, who’s been a brilliant young man.”

Jeffrey Schwartz, a friend who attended synagogue with Marberger, said he didn’t believe his childhood friend would do anything dangerous.

“Jacob is having some kind of trouble. I just hope he comes home, and he is safe. I hope that he doesn’t do anything regrettable,” said Schwartz, the Reform engagement associate at Cornell University Hillel. “I don’t think that he will. I just hope he comes home safe.”

Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker emphasized that the closing of the college was done out of an abundance of caution.

“Let me be clear, at no time has Mr. Marberger made any threats to the college, the community, or anyone,” Baker said in a statement.

But apparently over the last few weeks, Jacob Marberger has also been a troubled young man. According to an interview his father gave NBC-10, he was made the recipient of a dorm room prank involving a trash can filled with water that spilled into his room that he didn’t react well to.

Jon Marberger said that shortly after that, his son, who had been collecting antique guns over the past year, was drunk when he brandished an unloaded rifle in front of some students. Two weeks later, after police recovered a weapon of his at a house off-campus, he was suspended from school and forced to undergo a forensic psychiatric evaluation.

The psychiatrist allowed him to return to school after determining Jacob did not appear to be a threat to others or to himself.

But when he returned to campus, things began to unravel. Marberger was kicked out of his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. He also had to face a hearing from the Honor Board, followed by a confrontation from the Student Government Association, where he was serving as Speaker of the SGA Senate. Following that meeting, Marberger resigned his position, then headed back home, where he reportedly removed a rifle and its case from his father’s collection around 3 a.m. Monday.

He then headed north to the Hamburg Wal-Mart, but hasn’t been heard from since.

“I believe we did the right thing hosting the vigil,” said Leib, who received a text from Jacob’s mother, Debra Marberger, Thursday, expressing her appreciation while she and the Marberger family try to resolve a “web of distortion” concerning her son. “I’m pleased we could help.

“But this has been an awful calamity for this family.”

Jewish Exponent senior staff writer Jon Marks reported from Philadelphia. Suzanne Pollak is a senior staff writer at Washington Jewish Week.

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