COSAM » News » Articles » 2016 » September » COSAM student, granddaughter of COSAM supporter, helps capture Auburn Oak arsonist

COSAM student, granddaughter of COSAM supporter, helps capture Auburn Oak arsonist

Published: 09/29/2016

By: Lindsay Penny

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Herron Taylor, junior in biomedical sciences, has received praise from Auburn fans across the nation for helping to capture the man accused of setting fire to one of the Auburn Oaks following the Auburn vs. LSU football game on Sept. 24.

Surveillance footage from Toomer’s Corner shows Taylor confronting the man, now identified as Jochen Wiest, after he allegedly set fire to toilet paper hanging from the Magnolia Avenue tree.

“My boyfriend and I were posing in front of the tree for a picture while another person took a photo of us,” said Taylor. “Then my boyfriend said, ‘he just lit the tree on fire!’ So, I turned around and sure enough, there was a guy with a lighter in his hand and flames going up the tree. Then he just casually walked back to his group of friends standing around like nothing had happened.”

Quick to act, Taylor confronted Wiest and yelled for help.

“I think everyone was in shock and couldn’t really process what was happening, but all I could think is that he could not get away with this. When I confronted him, he started to run, and I followed him yelling ‘you lit the tree on fire, you lit the tree on fire’ until a group of people wrestled him to the ground and the police arrested him.”

Taylor and her boyfriend helped the Auburn Police Division identify Wiest, and gave statements to the police.

Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey have commended Taylor for her courage and quick thinking.

“It’s all been a blur,” said Taylor. “It was just an instinct thing. When he tried to get away from me, that made me even madder. I was like, ‘oh no, you’ve got to pay for this!’”

Media from around the state have invited her for interviews, and the surveillance footage showing the incident is now viral on social media.

Taylor’s grandmother, Nancy Taylor Latimer, is a COSAM scholarship donor and made a gift in memory of her late husband, Taylor’s grandfather, Dr. Wendell H. Taylor, Sr., a 1949 alumnus and orthodontist for many years in Birmingham. A lecture hall in the Sciences Center Classrooms building was named in his memory.

“My family and friends have all told me how proud they are of me for standing up to the guy, and they’ve all been great,” said Taylor. “I think my grandmother might be the most proud of everyone.”

A native of Mountain Brook, Taylor fell in love with Auburn when her brother became an Auburn student.

“We went to all of the football games in 2013, and I just fell in love with the campus and everything about Auburn,” said Taylor. “I knew I wanted to come here.”

As a biomedical sciences student, Taylor is pre-med, and is interested in orthopedics.

“My brother had a leg injury when we were younger, and growing up, his life was pretty much surgery, wheelchair, crutches and repeat,” said Taylor. “Witnessing him go through all of that really started my interest in orthopedics, and now I am interested in orthopedic sports surgery, although I’m still looking at all of my options.”

As an Auburn student, Taylor is involved in her social sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and is a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a national honor society for students preparing for careers in health professions. She is also a research assistant in the College of Human Sciences’ Department of Human Development and Family Studies. 

The extent of the damage to the oak at Toomer’s Corner is still unknown as officials from Auburn University continue to keep a close watch on the tree. 

University officials are asking fans to refrain from rolling the damaged tree until further assessment of the tree’s health can be made.
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