Threats Rattle Schools Across the U.S.

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007; 8:00 PM

Bomb threats and menacing notes sent to several colleges and universities across the country a day after the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech led officials to temporarily evacuate buildings, shutter campuses and see weapons where there were none.

St. Edward's University, a private Catholic school in Austin, closed its main campus yesterday after receiving a nonspecific bomb threat, said communications director Mischelle Amador. A search continued into the night but nothing was found. The campus will reopen today.

Several buildings at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were evacuated for a few hours after a bomb threat was called in, said Chuck Cantrell, assistant vice chancellor. Bomb threats to the college are infrequent, he said, and individually evaluated before action is taken.

"Did a little more sensitivity and caution play into our decision to evacuate today based on what happened? Probably so," he said.

At the University of Oklahoma, police searched an area of the campus after a man carrying an umbrella was reported carrying a weapon, according to a statement by President David Boren. "We always want to err on the side of caution in a situation like this," he said.

Shootings on campus are relatively rare. According to the latest figures available under a federal law that requires post-secondary institutions to report crimes, 84 homicides were committed on campuses from 2001-03.

Other crimes, from aggravated assaults -- nearly 10,000 over the same period -- to nearly 8,000 sexual offenses, are far more common. Each year nearly 700,000 students ages 18 to 24 report being assaulted by other students who had been drinking.

Still, it was the randomness and magnitude of Monday's shootings that had everyone reexamining security and how students are notified in an emergency.

Police maintained a heightened presence at scores of schools, and at Georgetown University, officials said intensified patrols would continue until the school year ends.

"I think every campus is probably feeling the effects because college campuses share a certain culture, and there is that kind of 'it could happen anywhere' type of feeling," said Caitlin Carroll, 22, a senior at George Washington University and editor of the student newspaper.

Steven Healy, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and head of security at Princeton University, said schools are going to have to "rethink their mass notification systems," because many students no longer routinely check e-mail and instead rely on cellphones.

Healey also noted that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many campus security forces strengthened relationships with local and federal police departments. He urged schools to redouble their efforts. "Those aren't relationships you want to be making in the middle of a disaster," he said.

But some college officials note that all the preparation does not mean they can stop a determined assailant.

At the University of Washington, a woman was shot to death two weeks ago by a stalker who then killed himself. She had obtained a restraining order and had given his picture to fellow workers, said executive director of media relations and communications Norm Arkans. Seattle police were searching for him, but he still entered campus April 2 for the fatal attack.

"The real question is, can you guarantee 100 percent safety from a deranged individual with a gun," he said. "And I think most folks would say, 'No, you can't.' "


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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