Bomb threat clears campus

With Virginia Tech shootings in mind, University authorities take no chances and close down mall area

Police evacuated eight buildings in the Northrop Mall area of campus.

Police evacuated eight University buildings Wednesday after receiving word of a bomb threat in Smith Hall early that afternoon. No bomb was found in an ensuing search, and the buildings were scheduled to reopen this morning.

Appleby, Smith, Kolthoff, Fraser, Johnston and Morrill halls, as well as Walter Library and the Science Classroom Building, were evacuated at about 1:15 p.m. said Dan Johnson-Powers, emergency management coordinator. Classes in those buildings were cancelled for the rest of the day.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, University Police Chief Greg Hestness said, given the events of the past few days, officials decided to take the threat seriously while considering the possibility of copycats and hoaxes.

“We know there have been other hoax situations. We understand that exists,” Hestness said.

Police confirmed the authenticity of a photo in the Daily’s possession of the bomb threat letter found in Smith Hall on Wednesday.

“I am sick and tired of these buildings and people who operate in them,” the letter states in all capital letters. “Today before 10 pm (sic) I am going to bomb them simultaniously (sic), I have nothing to lose.”

The letter also listed five of the buildings that were evacuated.

Joe Plocher, a pre-med sophomore, said he found the letter at about 12:10 p.m. in the men’s bathroom.

“I was walking up to the sink to wash my hands and there was a piece of paper in the sink next to me,” he said. “I read it and I wasn’t sure what to do.”

He took a picture of the letter with his phone and gave it to a woman in a first-floor office. She called police, he said.

Hestness said Plocher’s story seemed accurate, and data embedded in the photo confirms it was taken with a camera phone at 12:13 p.m., just before the threat was called in.

Police were dispatched to the area at 12:15 p.m., Minneapolis Police Lt. Amelia Huffman said.

After examining the note, police decided to evacuate the buildings listed in the letter and three others nearby at 12:45 p.m. The buildings were locked by 1:15 p.m., Hestness said.

Carrie Meyer, a business analyst at the University, said in an e-mail that the University’s emergency radios, similar to weather radios, went off at about 1:30.

At 2 p.m., Jean Kucera, an administrative assistant working in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Murphy Hall, just east of the mall, hadn’t received any information from the University, neither phone calls nor e-mails.

Yellow tape roped off sidewalks in the Northrop Mall area. Many people lay on the grass, sat under trees, played Frisbee and did homework, seemingly unconcerned, until police began evacuating them at about 2:30 p.m.

Around 2:40, students began receiving “emergency announcement” e-mails from the University, though some students hadn’t received it by as late as 4:00 p.m.

Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien said she believed the e-mail was sent at about 1:15, but it takes that much time to get through the system.

O’Brien said police were focusing on evacuation and safety in all of the buildings before notifying the larger campus population.

The University’s Web site asked students in these buildings not to congregate in the mall area and to return to residence halls, though students in the area seemed more confused than worried.

Campus threats forced lockdowns and evacuations at universities, high schools and middle schools in at least 10 states Wednesday. Several threats mentioned the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Emily Banks, Kevin Behr, Liz Cook, Tiffany Clements, Mike Enright, Jim Hammerand, Vadim Lavrusik, Katie Nelson, Nina Petersen-Perlman, Karlee Weinmann and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The proximity of the Virginia Tech tragedy aroused student sympathy.

Pedestrian traffic was disrupted Wednesday as thousands of students poured out of buildings surrounding Northrop Mall after a reported bomb threat.

Sections of the sidewalk were closed off, and security personnel taped off entrances to several buildings that police had deemed potential targets.

As students milled around the mall, many chose to lie out on the grassy knoll and soak up the sun or study. A group of jugglers practiced on the mall until police cleared the area.

As local media descended upon the East Bank and helicopters circled campus, many students exited their classrooms in confusion about the situation outside.

Eric Sanford, an administrator in the Minnesota Super Computing Institute, was inside Smith Hall when the building was evacuated.

Sanford said a faculty member notified him and his colleagues to evacuate the building without giving any specifics.

Minutes later, as he was waiting for an elevator, he saw police officers who told him to evacuate because there was a bomb threat, he said.

“I don’t think it is anything too serious,” he said. “But with what happened earlier this week, the police can’t be too careful.”

Heena Patel had a 1:25 p.m. chemistry class in Smith Hall and said a member of the chemistry department evacuated everyone at about 1:30 p.m.

“This one guy ran in and he told everyone to evacuate and started yelling,” the biomedical engineering and management, post-secondary enrollment student said.

Patel said she wasn’t sure about the motives of the threat, but said Chemistry 1021 had a test and that “could be the reason.”

“I don’t know what was going on in that person’s head when they announced the bomb threat,” she said.

Heather Raco, a first-year pre-veterinary student, said she had a test in Smith Hall right before it was evacuated.

Raco said she left the building for a coffee break and when she came back all the doors were locked.

She and many other students had a chemistry midterm in Smith Hall later in the day, she said.

“Because of what happened at Virginia Tech, you have to take it seriously,” she said. “I think (police) did the right thing by being extra careful, because you never know.”

First-year pre-veterinary and animal science student Abby Rudenick stood outside Walter Library after being evacuated from the building during yesterday’s bomb threat.

Visibly startled, Rudenick said the thought of a potential attack on campus scared her.

“After the whole shooting thing, you don’t know what could have happened,” she said.

Katie Nelson, Vadim Lavrusik and Justin Horwath contributed to this report.