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Police: Suspects in Catawba College dorm robbery turn themselves in, wanted in similar incident at Livingstone College

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Police officials say two men involved in robberies at Catawba College have turned themselves in and are involved in a similar incident at Livingstone College. Campus officials at both colleges have cautioned students about protecting themselves.

The Salisbury Police Department had asked for the public’s help to find Justin Traig Sterling, 21, of Monroe and Elias Phillip Francis, 19, of Mint Hill after they were identified as suspects in robberies at a couple of dorm rooms at Catawba College.

Francis contacted Mint Hill authorities and was arrested there. Sterling turned himself in to Monroe law enforcement. The two will be charged with one count of robbery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of felony breaking and entering, and one count of felony larceny.

Francis was booked into the Mecklenburg County jail Tuesday just before midnight. According to the jail’s website, he remains there under a $310,000 secured bond.

Sterling was booked into the Union County jail Tuesday at 9:19 p.m.. According to its records, he has been released.

Salisbury police said the two entered a Catawba College dorm room and took clothing, electronics and jewelry on Feb. 14. The next day, they went into another dorm room, which was ransacked, police said. The pair went into an adjoining dorm room and pointed a gun at a victim and demanded property from the victim and his roommate.

Livingstone College Police Chief Gloria Blaire said a burglary occurred on campus involving the pair. The campus police are working with Salisbury police investigators.

She said students were notified and an updated message will be sent to tell students the suspects have been apprehended, but she doesn’t want students to let their guards down.

“We want them to be careful,” she said.

Blaire said authorities believe the suspects knew at least one student at Livingstone, but she said neither Sterling nor Francis are Livingstone College students.

She said when incidents such as this happen on campus, there are ways the college notifies students that include a paper notice or “timely warning” that is posted around campus and through its emergency notification system.

The notification system sends a phone message to students with a message from Blaire or an automated voice recording about what has happened on or near campus and what precautions students should take.

Livingstone campus police and public safety officials would also notify each residence hall director of any incidents so that they could relay information to residents.

Blaire said when new students arrive on campus, she or someone from her department provides safety tips, including reminding students to have their ID on them at all times. She said they also warn students to be careful about who they allow in their dorm rooms and in their presence on campus.

Catawba College officials also confirmed Wednesday that the suspects are not current or former students there.

Salisbury Police Capt. Shelia Lingle said Sterling and Francis knew students at Catawba and one of the pair had “hung out” with a friend from Catawba before.

Catawba spokeswoman Tonia Black-Gold said students have been notified that the suspects were arrested. She said the college’s public safety office and the Office of Student Conduct continue to conduct an internal investigation.

A reminder was issued to students to lock their dorm rooms and cars and not to prop open building doors or loan out ID cards. Students were asked to travel in small groups or call public safety for escorts, if needed.

Black-Gold said the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office will provide added coverage to campus, along with Catawba’s Public Safety officers, throughout the remainder of the academic year.

“The college appreciates the work done by the Salisbury Police Department and those involved in the investigation, both through SPD and the internal college investigation,” Black-Gold said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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