multimedia journalist

Female issued trespass warning after posing as UNC-CH student

By Amy Cockerham

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Around 3 p.m. on Sept. 25, a woman was issued a trespass warning from the UNC-Chapel Hill campus after posing as an UNC-CH student for over a month and a half.

The woman, identified as Sarah Ferrell, used social media to reach out to UNC-CH students and gain access to campus buildings and dormitories. Randy Young, a member of the university’s campus police media relations team, said Ferrell was issued a “Warning of Trespass” at her off-campus residence in Chapel Hill, but no arrest was made.

“There was no verified, immediate threat to students or to the campus,” Young said. “Again, we would emphasize that there have been no allegations of criminal activity.”

On the same day, a post circulated on social media suggesting that Ferrell was befriending UNC-CH and North Carolina State University students because she was involved in a sex trafficking ring. UNC-Chapel Hill police said they found no connection between Ferrell and sex trafficking, and the post has since been deleted.

Mick Kulikowski, a member of the N.C. State media relations team, said this was a case of false statements and claims made on social media.

“There were no crimes committed on N.C. State’s campus,” Kulikowski said.

Several residents of Granville Towers said that they spent time with Ferrell before the social media posts circulated, believing that she was an UNC-CH student and Morehead-Cain scholar. Shruthi Gopalan, a first-year at UNC-CH, said Ferrell messaged her on Instagram over the summer.

“She was like, ‘Hey, we have a lot of mutual friends,’” Gopalan said. “‘I’m looking for friends at UNC, and I’d love to get to know you.’”

Gopalan said Ferrell met up with her to get dinner in Chapel Hill before school started, and they hung out frequently in Granville Towers during the first few weeks of the semester. Gopalan said as the semester progressed they began to drift apart, but they continued sitting together in Anthropology class.

“She was taking notes, and I was taking notes,” Gopalan said. “She had read the textbook and done all of the readings.”

Gopalan said she never suspected Ferrell wasn’t a student until resident advisers at Granville Towers warned residents to call 911 if they encountered Ferrell because she was being investigated for trespassing.

“The fact that she was able to do all of this is really scary,” Gopalan said. “She not only got into all of the buildings with no effort, she got into all of my classes.”

According to the Office of the University Registrar, members of the public may audit a course at UNC-CH, but they must receive permission from the instructor and go through a registration process. UNC-CH media relations said they could not provide a list of non-affiliated auditing students at this time.

Gopalan said she has not noticed any change in security at Granville Towers following this incident.

While individuals posing as students is not a common occurrence on campus, reports of trespassing are. According to UNC-Chapel Hill police’s crime log, there have been four reports of trespassing on campus since Sept. 21.

“This in no way reflects a threat to campus which would elicit Alert Carolina messaging,” Young said.

UNC-Chapel Hill police continues to encourage students to call 911 to report any suspicious or criminal activity, or to provide information which may aid police in an investigation.