A Person County resident who had been charged in peeping incidents in Chapel Hill for more than 10 years was found dead in an apparent suicide last month.
Police discovered 60-year-old John Thomas Whitt, Jr. in his home near Roxboro on July 25 — a month after he was arrested for peeping and assault on a government official at Mill Creek Apartments off Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill.
“We were contacted by a family member to do a welfare check, and that’s how we found him,” said Capt. A. J. Weaver of the Person County Sheriff’s Office. “They were worried about him.”
He was found in his garage, sitting behind a car. The key was in the “on” position, Weaver said.
Weaver said a medical examiner was investigating and would make the final determination if the incident was a suicide.
Whitt was charged in multiple peeping incidents at UNC, as well as Duke and N.C. State universities during the last decade.
After he was charged with nearly 90 counts of peeping in 2001, the North Carolina legislature strengthened its state peeping law, changing peeping from a misdemeanor to a felony, said Sgt. Josh Mecimore, spokesman for the Chapel Hill Police Department.
On one occasion, he was caught on the Kappa Delta sorority house roof in Chapel Hill with a video camera, Mecimore said. After police searched his home and business, they discovered more video tapes. He was sentenced to eight months in jail.
“Those arrests and convictions are actually what led to the law being strengthened,” Mecimore said.
“It was a direct result of that incident.”
Whitt was also charged with felony peeping last Halloween after he used a camera to look up women’s skirts on Franklin Street.
“There are more potential victims,” Mecimore said. “There’s typically a series of related incidents.”
He said it’s important for students to protect themselves by closing blinds and locking doors and windows.
For students who live off campus, Mecimore said motion sensor lights can be helpful in deterring peepers and other criminals.
But he said the best tool was communicating with police and speaking with other residents.
“Get to know your neighbors,” Mecimore said.
“If you know your neighbors, they’re more likely to talk about seeing someone suspicious. That’s harder in college towns.”
Randy Young, spokesman for the UNC Department of Public Safety, said peeping isn’t common on campus, but it does occur occasionally.
Nine peeping incidents were reported in Teague Residence Hall, Murphey Hall, the Undergraduate Library and Jackson Circle from 2005 to 2009, according to a search for peeping on the Department of Public Safety’s website.
Young said none of those incidents were related to Whitt, though campus police had ordered him to stay off campus to protect students involved in off-campus incidents.
If there were a repeat offender who had not been caught on campus, police would use Alert Carolina to notify students, Young said.
“Hopefully that would illicit further information coming in,” Young said. “We have said in the past, if there is a suspicious individual, do not approach them. Contact us directly.”
Young said peeping incidents on campus have involved both students and people from the outside community.
“It comes down to our slogan, if you see something say something,” Young said. “It’s certainly a concern on any open campus environment.”
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