Winthrop Police close investigation of vandalism found outside Tillman Hall

UPDATE: 12/9/16 (12:10 p.m.): The Winthrop University Campus Police has closed the criminal investigation of vandalism found outside Tillman Hall in November, according to the university.

The campus police said the investigation is closed until further information is received. If new evidence is presented the case will be re-opened to pursue criminal charges. The 16th Circuit Solicitor agrees with the university's assessment that more evidence is necessary to file criminal charges.

An unofficial student group at Winthrop University has taken responsibility for a display reported as"disturbing acts of vandalism" found outside Tillman Hall on Sunday after campus police started investigating.

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When campus police officers arrived on scene Sunday they found a white sign taped over the address marker of Tillman Hall that read, "Tillman's Legacy." In a nearby tree the officers counted 18 black stockings filled with dirt and mulch hung from various branches, according to campus police.

"I called my dad right away, I told him there were black bodies hanging from a tree on this campus," said Megan Holland, a political science major and activist at Winthrop University. "My initial response was, 'this is the university I go to and there are people who would do something as despicable as this.'"

There was no explanation, except for a piece of paper which read "Tillman's Legacy" taped to a sign in front of Tillman Hall. Officers believe the stockings and sign were placed in front of Tillman Hall Saturday night or early in the morning.

The display was taken down and placed into evidence. The officers looked at security footage, but were not able to find anyone involved in the vandalism.

Many students tweeted photos to the University wanting answers.

The University's President made the following statements:

"The Winthrop University Police investigation of a display near Tillman Hall on Sunday has yielded a claim of responsibility by a group who asserts its action is a protest over the Tillman name on the main administration building. The imagery used has been deeply hurtful and threatening to many on campus. This incident will be fully investigated, and those responsible will be held accountable.

"Winthrop Campus Police are currently investigating a display found this Sunday by Tillman Hall. The display, consisting of a sign with the words "Tillman's Legacy" and a number of abstract black spray-painted figures hanging from branches of a nearby tree, was immediately removed when reported to police.

While we do not know the intent of this display, these images are clearly hurtful and threatening and are contrary to the values of Winthrop University. Actions such as these are not, and will not be, acceptable on this campus. This incident will be fully investigated, and those responsible will be held accountable to the campus judicial system and South Carolina state law.

If you have any information regarding this incident, please contact Winthrop University Campus Police."

On Monday their questions were answered when an unofficial student group called "The Association of Artists for Change" came forward with a statement on Twitter.

"Many of the artists feel that their status as LGBTQ, undocumented, going to cause them to no longer be able to live happy, healthy, safe lives," said Samantha Valdez, a spokesperson for the association. "They wanted to remember the 18 men who were lynched and they wanted to address that we go to a school that is considered diverse, but they're honoring a man who did this."

According to Valdez, the artists responsible want the university to stand up against Benjamin Tillman's legacy, who some say was a racist and the namesake for Tillman Hall. They're asking for the name of the hall to be changed or a plaque to be created denouncing him.

Tillman was a politician of the Democratic Party and served as both Governor of South Carolina and as a United State Senator. He was also known as a white supremacist who often spoke out against blacks, according to historians.

"If everyone knew what he had done," said faculty member David Batchelor. "Let's say we named a building after Hitler. I don't think I would want a building named after him knowing all he had done."

"I think if you're going to protest something, I think you should start a petition to get the name changed," said Allie Price, a Winthrop University student. "You shouldn't violate something that's not yours."

The association is not sharing the names of the people who put up the display, but campus police say those involved will be held accountable.