Halftime News

Inside a timeless tradition: a minute with the man who stole the clock hands

October 16, 2023

Photo by Julian M. via GoFundMe

Editor’s note: Source’s name has been changed to protect anonymity. 

Troy O’Neil (MSB ’23) has an unassuming air about him. He’s of average height and average build. He sometimes wears glasses. He’s never in any particular hurry; he walks as though he has all the time in the world. If you passed him on the street, you probably would not think twice about him. It is this quality that makes him the perfect thief.

Street signs, sandwich boards, traffic cones—these are some of the trophies that adorn the walls of his home in Georgetown. They’re artfully arranged, gallery-style, as if placed by an interior designer with a shrewd eye for presentation. Aside from these prizes, O’Neil’s house is tidy and spare, betraying no trace of his antics of the nights-before—which are usually spent tiptoeing through active construction sites or snatching road signs from unsuspecting thoroughfares. The theft of the clock hands was only a matter of time. 

In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, May 8, O’Neil and a small band of accomplices executed Georgetown’s first Healy clock hand heist of the decade, reviving a storied tradition.

“The idea was to do it before everyone was off campus,” O’Neil, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said. The timing of the heist was intentional because it was meant to boost students’ morale. 

“We wanted students to look up and feel a connection to Georgetown’s history and be proud to be a Hoya,” he said. “Doing it during finals was important because students might be particularly stressed out and might be having a negative image of Georgetown.”

Boost morale it did. Hoyas awoke Monday morning, ready to make their way to exams or sink into the bowels of Lau 4, but were instead flooded with images of a faceless Healy clock tower. Instagram stories, club GroupMes, and threads on the anonymous campus chat app Flok alit with speculation—who did it? And how?

Under cover of darkness, O’Neil and his band of thieves stole across a deserted Healy lawn and set to work. To access the Healy clock face, they had to pass through a series of locked doors in the Healy attic on the 6th floor of Healy Hall to get up to Healy tower. From there, O’Neil was faced with an eclectic mix of security devices.

“It’s a mix of really old, antediluvian security contraptions and high tech motion-sensored cameras,” O’Neil said. “Security is really inconsistent throughout Healy. There was a point where we thought we were in the clear, but there was a camera there, and this camera was what ultimately led us to get caught.” 

The passageways through Healy tower were excessively stuffy, and O’Neil and his partners removed their masks at one juncture for relief from the heat, a critical mistake that later led to their punishment.

Once in the clock tower, O’Neil and his accomplices removed the hands with an abundance of care. He estimated that it took them about 15 to 20 minutes.

“There’s a box like a little trap door that opens up where maintenance workers—or students—can touch the hands, so the process of removing them didn’t require specialized tools,” O’Neil said. “There’s this crazy rumor that welding was involved. That didn’t happen. We left the tower in pretty good condition as I understand.”

The seniors then spirited away the hands around 6 a.m., just as the Hilltop was starting to stir. In place of the hands, they left a large white flag emblazoned with the image of a fish and the words, “ABSOLUTELY TORQUED.”

“That part wasn’t well thought out,” O’Neil confessed. Despite campus speculation about the meaning of the “TORQUED” banner, there was no real significance in flying it other than its own ridiculousness. 

“We just had the flag in someone’s house,” he said. 

O’Neil believed that leaving something silly behind in place of the hands was part of the tradition, taking inspiration from the previous heist in 2017, when the thieves swapped the hands for a unicorn head. 

We have this inside joke as a group about fish, and we figured that this flag was absurd enough that it would signal to everyone that it was a prank,” he said. 

The clock hands were missing for about 7 hours before the thieves were contacted by GUPD. Around 1 p.m. on May 8, the thieves hand-delivered the clock hands to GUPD headquarters. 

On May 15, the seniors began a series of communications with the Office of Student Conduct regarding their punishment. They did not receive a decision from the university until Thursday, May 18, the day of Senior Convocation and two days before Commencement. 

“We didn’t know our punishments for over a week, so that was its own punishment as well,” O’Neil said. While awaiting the university’s decision, he and one other accomplice had to miss some other senior traditions, such as the President’s Picnic in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Ultimately the university imposed a $4,530 fine on the two seniors, which was quickly crowdfunded via GoFundMe

O’Neil was thankful the punishment wasn’t more severe. “The sanctions they gave us were highly reasonable, given the circumstances,” he said. “Us being seniors made the whole disciplinary process unpredictable. We got sanctions that were serious because they needed to be, but that thankfully worked around our status as graduating seniors.” 

He expressed relief and gratitude to the university that he was able to walk at graduation and partake in other Senior Week events, like Senior Ball.

In the past, the university imposed stricter sanctions on underclassmen who stole the clock hands. In 2006, it sentenced two students to a year of community service and disciplinary probation. As the hands were stolen by O’Neil and his co-conspirators, seniors on the brink of graduation, the case was unprecedented in recent memory.

“Our motivation is about community, raising spirits through tradition,” O’Neil concluded. “This is something we had heard about throughout our time at Georgetown that was always spoken of with reverence. As we approached grad, we thought it would bring the school together.”

The Voice does not condone the theft of university property. However, we do condone this banging playlist as the soundtrack to a hypothetical future heist.

Amanda Yen
Amanda is a senior American Studies major. Her villain origin story is that she was told she has “only child vibes.”

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