A series of bomb threats this week targeted college campuses across the country, many of which are community colleges. Although no bombs have been found, the threats come amid a surge of such threats this summer that are of concern to law enforcement officials and college leaders, who say they are disrupting life campus and disrupt students and staff.
Two campuses of Eastern Florida State College closed and reopened after evacuations Wednesday in response to a bomb threat.
A slew of Virginia community colleges were targeted Tuesday, including Eastern Shore Community College, Tidewater Community College, Virginia Peninsula Community College and Paul D. Camp Community College. Regent University and Norfolk State University, a historically black institution, have also received threats, according to 13News Now, an ABC-affiliated news station in Virginia.
Karen Campbell, vice president of student affairs at Tidewater Community College, said Chesapeake Police Department officers and firefighters searched the campus after a threat around 11:20 a.m. Tuesday and determined the threat was not founded. Summer is a “slower time in college,” but she said some students, faculty and staff were on campus for summer classes.
“Our priority is always to make sure our students, faculty and staff are safe,” she said.
The Wheeling Police Department in West Virginia also received a call that there was a bomb at the main campus building of West Virginia Northern Community College shortly before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, prompting the department to investigate. After the building was evacuated, an explosives detection dog accompanied officers who searched in and around the building, said Philip Stahl, public information officer with the Wheeling Police Department. The ministry issued a clear announcement less than two hours later.
“Nothing was located,” Stahl said. “Obviously this was a hoax in nature, and we are continuing to investigate the phone call that was made at this point.”
He noted that local media also reported threats at nearby institutions, so the department is contacting other law enforcement agencies to compare threat calls. Threats occurred the same afternoon at institutions of higher learning in Ohio, including Belmont College, the Zanesville and Zane State campuses of Ohio University, and Washington State Community College in Marietta. Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., also received a threat on Tuesday afternoon, Kenosha News reported.
“Obviously, it’s rare…for all of this to happen at the same time,” Stahl said. “We are doing our part to see where [phone] where the number came from, who was the person on that line. We will speak to our local agents here at the FBI office to alert them to what we know and what has happened on our end. They’re able to survey all over the country, so they’d probably take a broader look at what’s going on here.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s press office released a statement saying the agency “is aware of the bomb threats received by multiple colleges and universities.”
“The FBI takes all potential threats seriously, and we regularly work with our law enforcement partners to determine their credibility,” the statement said. “As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious, report it to law enforcement immediately.”
Tuesday’s incidents are the latest wave in a barrage of threats that have been going on for weeks.
For example, the Ogden-Weber Technical College in Utah was evacuated on July 6 due to a bomb threat and resumed normal operations the following day.
“The College thanks our security personnel, employees and students for following established security protocols, which resulted in a safe and timely evacuation from campus,” read a statement from the college. “A special thank you to our outstanding partners in law enforcement and emergency services who have helped secure and clean up the campus.”
Two Austin Community College campuses, Weatherford College’s Alkek Fine Arts Center, University of North Texas Health Science Center and Dallas College’s Richland Campus received threats on July 7.
“Evacuate the location on foot immediately”, Dallas College tweeted. “Stay as far away from buildings as possible. Not on site? STAY CLEAR for your own safety.
Cleveland State University received a threat the following day, as did the University of Providence in Montana and at least four institutions in Maryland, including Carroll Community College, Hagerstown Community College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the Wor-Wic Community College.
Robert Mueck, director of public safety at St. John’s College in Maryland and a member of the national preparedness committee for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said his email ” was exploding” as campus public safety officers conversed on email listservs. the growing number of threats.
“Communications were bouncing around,” he said. “We were way above that. People talk about it. »
The latest threats also come after bomb threats historically swept through black colleges and universities nationwide earlier this year, damaging the mental health of students, faculty and staff and prompting a congressional hearing in March. .
While bomb threats are generally unfounded, “that does not mean [students] are not going to be afraid,” Mueck said. “There are students who are absolutely shocked about this.”
Some college students, parents and employees posted on social media of their shock and concern over the bomb threats.
“MY COLLEGE RECEIVED A BOMB THREAT EARLIER WHAT”, a student wrote on Twitter. “Everyone is fine and the campus is now reopening after 1.5 hours but WHAT.”
‘My middle schooler came home early today because some idiot put out a bomb threat on campus,’ a parent said. tweeted. “Grateful that he is safe, but frustrated living in a world like this.”
Mueck thinks more and more campus bomb threats are happening because today’s technology makes it easier to make anonymous calls, and teens in particular are “encouraging” themselves to make those calls on social media. . For example, he highlighted the case of a teenage gamer who was allegedly involved in a series of bomb threats in 2021, and that of a group of people using Discord, an instant messaging platform. He is, however, struck by the number of community colleges targeted and says he does not know why these institutions have become targets of those making the threats.
James Shaeffer, president of Eastern Shore Community College, said from his perspective the threat against his college looked like a “one-off” incident rather than any concerted effort to target community colleges. The college had to evacuate middle and high school students from campus for summer camps, but law enforcement officials quickly determined there was no bomb.
“If anything, it was awkward,” he said.
Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, said she’s been watching the treats: “But I don’t know if there’s an increase in events or if we’re just hearing about it. more often now with social media.”
Community college presidents are nonetheless “always concerned about the safety of their students and their teams, their faculty and their staff” and have plans in place against potential threats, she added.
She also noted that it’s sometimes easier for community colleges to keep students safe in times of threat because colleges often don’t have students living in dormitories.
Mueck said law enforcement officials and campus leaders must strike a balance between “not overreacting but not not overreacting.”
“It’s the cheapest form of terrorism there is,” he said. “It’s the cheapest form of harassment. You have to do something, but some of these campuses are closing completely, sending everyone home or taking other types of action. And it really has an impact on the academic program of the institution. We have to be careful of this because with the press of a phone call you can derail a college campus.
He said that’s exactly what the people who make these threats want.
“Threats are made to create anxiety,” he said. “The person making the threat wants you to react.”