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Crime and Law Enforcement

State College Police Investigating Murders, Suicide That Left Four Dead

John Gardner at podium
Min Xian

State College police are still trying to determine the motive behind a shooting Thursday night that left three victims and the shooter dead. 

The incident began at P.J. Harrigan’s Bar & Grill on South Atherton Street in State College. The shooter, Jordan Witmer, had been at the bar with Nicole Abrino since about 8:30 p.m. According to police, before 10:15 p.m. Witmer shot Abrino, 21; and Dean Beachy, 62, and his 19-year-old son, Steven.

Police said Dean Beachy sustained a gunshot wound to the head and died at the scene. Steven Beachy was life-flighted to a hospital but died from injuries. Abrino was taken to a Pittsburgh-area hospital.

Police Chief John Gardner said during a press conference Friday afternoon that at one point Witmer got up from his side of the bar and walked to the side where the Beachys were sitting.

Outside of P.J. Harrigan's restaurant
Credit Kristine Allen / WPSU
The shooting incident that happened Jan. 24, 2019, began at the P.J. Harrigan's restaurant, which is next to the Ramada Hotel on South Atherton Street.

“We are still trying to determine what led Witmer to pull out a handgun and begin shooting," Gardner said.

After shooting the three people, Witmer reportedly fled the bar. He drove down a nearby road where he crashed his vehicle, then fled again.

When asked if Beachy had tried to intervene in an argument, Gardner said police are looking at all options.

“We’re trying to make sense of what occurred," Gardner said. "Obviously that’s one thing we want to look at. We’re interested in seeing what precipitated or led up to this event.”

Gardner said that after leaving his car Witmer shot the sliding glass door of a home and broke in. He then shot 82-year-old George McCormick in the head, killing him. Police said Witmer had no ties to George McCormick or his wife, who was not hurt.

Gardner said they are investigating whether Witmer had drugs or alcohol in his system.

District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said this type of incident is practically unheard of in Centre County.

“I don’t think anyone can recall a multiple death shooting like this, let alone in public, and something so random," Cantorna said. "To have this many fatalities, I think is something we’ve never experienced.”

Gardner also responded to criticism about why Penn State students did not receive text alerts about the incident. The university, which is about two miles from the restaurant, came under fire on social media after not sending a notice.

He said the shooting was far enough away from campus that there was no direct threat to Penn State or its students.

But, he also said: “If there’s one thing we, or myself in particular as a police chief here could have done better, it was to release information sooner that the threat had been eliminated."

Police said Witmer used a small caliber, semi-automatic gun. He had a license to carry the weapon.

A Bellefonte resident, Witmer was either on active duty with the military or had just left, according to police. He had no known criminal record.

Gardner said the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information can submit it anonymously through the department’s website.