Less than one week after bomb threats were e-mailed to UT’s Admissions Office, six other universities received similar scares on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Over the past several weeks colleges and universities across the country, including UT, have been receiving e-mailed bombthreats.
However, last Monday the saga took a shocking twist when officials at five different universities opened messages sent over the weekend. They claimed a bombing would occur at an unnamed campus on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Kenyon College, Cornell University, the Universities of Akron and Iowa, along with Skidmore and Swarthmore colleges were all e-mailed threats. According to published reports, authorities also admitted that several of the institutions have been recipients of similar threats over the past few weeks. Officials at those universities continue to work with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and their local authorities.
Meanwhile, after UT’s Admissions Office received four e-mailed bomb threats late last week, campus security had decided that the scares were not serious enough to evacuate the campus.
Still, the FBI and Tampa Police are continuing their investigation.
TPD and Princeton University security officials were a factor in the decision not to evacuate, said security director Charles Mascenik, who knows the Princeton police chief who dealt with similar threats on his campus. The threats there were later deemed a hoax.
Mascenik said campus was not evacuated because so many colleges had received similar SPAM-type threats. In recent weeks, Oregon State, American, Akron, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Clemson and other universities have received similar threats.
All of those except Kenyon College (Ohio) and Princeton evacuated. Both schools received threats most similar to UT’s.
Furthermore, no building was named in the threat and by the time it was received 12 hours later, enough time has passed for a bomb to have been discovered or already detonated, Mascenik said.
The threatening messages were sent between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. Wednesday night but were not discovered until Thursday morning.
All security officers, even those off duty or who had just gotten off their shifts, were immediately called to campus Thursday morning.
They did a room by room search, but they did not look into classrooms occupied by classes. This was to avoid creating panic, Mascenik said.
Officers also searched dumpsters and the areas below Plant Hall.
“We searched everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere.”
A bomb-sniffing dog was not used, he said, because of the general nature of the threat, which named only “401 W. Kennedy Blvd,” a huge area. It encompasses everywhere from the railroad tracks to the river and Kennedy Blvd, he said.
The Tampa Police Department was immediately notified and began investigating the e-mails.
Based on the content of the e-mailed threat, Tampa Police advised against evacuating the UT campus but asked that the community take caution and report anything suspicious, said Mascenik.
Text Alert Not Used
Some students were surprised that UT’s SMART Alert system was not used in this situation. The system is used to alert students to active threats on campus.
“Why ask students to use it and not keep them informed?” asked Jessica Rosado, a senior.
Mascenik said a text alert was not warranted because of how general the threat was. There was no specific building or time mentioned in the threat.
Commuter student Jamarah Letshwita said she had classes this morning and had not received the the global e-mail. She thought the SMART alert would have been helpful.
Spotting Suspicious Activity
The University of Tampa requests that students who see or hear of anything suspicious contact UT Campus Safety ‘ Security Office at 251-5133 or via e-mail at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journalism students Jacqueline Curley, Megan Fernandez, Jonaca Martin, Sarah Mullally and Skyler Prendergast contributed to this report.
Timeline of Similar Threats at Other Schools
Aug. 27 and Sept. 1 – Princeton University had two e-mailed bomb threats. One threat was directed toward the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the other was directed at a housing complex. Both were anonymous threats and deemed hoaxes. Because of the many bomb threats made to colleges in the past couple of weeks that turned out to be hoaxes, investigators have begun to take such threats less seriously. Aug. 28, 2007 – New York’s Cornell University evacuated the “targeted” Sage Hall after receiving an email threat. Police searched the building with bomb dogs. Faculty and students were allowed to enter a few hours later.
Aug. 30, 2007 – Akron University in Ohio experienced two bomb threats within two days. The University shut down Kolbe Hall and police K-9 units searched for explosives. Police arrested a suspect in the second threat for a false risk and creating panic. Sept. 4, 2007 – Kenyon College in central Ohio received six separate bomb threats in a general admissions e-mail account between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. The threats were determined to be a hoax and the school was searched but not evacuated.
Sept. 5, 2007 – Students were forced to evacuate Whitfield Hall along with another building at the University in Pittsburgh. Security fully searched for explosives until the campus was cleared for safety.