DEERFIELD, Ill., April 22 -- Authorities at a Christian university near Chicago moved dozens of black and Hispanic students to a hotel for their safety, and police stepped up patrols on campus Friday after three people received threatening, racist letters.
One parent said the letters were sent to white women dating black athletes at 3,300-student Trinity International University, but school officials said there is no connection to interracial dating.
Students pray at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., where threatening, racist letters were received.
(Charles Rex Arbogast -- AP)
Police and school officials would not discuss the threats in detail. They did say that two letters were sent on notebook paper through the campus internal mail system, and that professors are being asked to try to identify the handwriting.
"This is a diverse campus," university spokesman Gary Cantwell said. "We condemn any kind of intolerance. We assume this is an isolated incident and not representative of the college."
The letters were addressed to specific students and arrived over the past two weeks, Cantwell said. The most recent letter, shown to campus administrators and police on Thursday, threatened violence with a weapon, Bannockburn Police Chief Kevin Tracz said.
Because the threats came within days of the anniversaries of the Columbine High School shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing and Adolf Hitler's birthday, the school suggested that minority students be given the option of staying in a hotel if they do not feel safe in the dorms, the police chief said.
"They just didn't want to take any chances, and I agree with them," he said.
Dean of Students William Washington said he and 43 students spent the night at a hotel, and others from the area stayed with family or friends. Cantwell said it was not clear how long the students would be put up at a hotel.
Classes went on as scheduled, with police cars patrolling the streets and campus security guards keeping reporters from talking to students. About 20 students stood outside in the rain during their lunch break, holding hands and praying.
"Most of what I see is good Christian character," said Peter Hilden, 23, a senior in pastoral studies. "My only fear is we'll be characterized by one bad apple."
Darby Love said her son, a sophomore football player, told her the letters were sent to white women dating black athletes. "My understanding is that they're supposed to start shooting the black kids" on Friday, Love told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Officials who examined the letters believe they were written by one person, Cantwell said. Nothing similar happened before at Trinity, and university administrators met FBI agents and other investigators on how to respond, he said.
The threats were aimed at students in the university's undergraduate Trinity College, in which more than 20 percent of the 1,000 enrolled are minorities.
The school is in an isolated, forested area of suburban Chicago, where Canada geese wander along a stream through campus and the nearest neighbors are corporate campuses.
Late last year, authorities said black professional football players and high school athletes in Cleveland had received threatening letters. Those letters, postmarked from cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, directed recipients to break off their interracial relationships "or they're going to be castrated, shot or set on fire." Most were signed "angry white woman" or "angry Caucasian woman."