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Howard University and at least 7 other HBCUs receive bomb threats, triggering evacuations and lockdowns

The Founders Library at Howard University, one of at least seven historically Black colleges and universities to receive bomb threats Tuesday. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

At least eight historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats Tuesday, school officials said, triggering abrupt evacuations of students and employees.

Spelman College, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Florida Memorial University, Howard University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina Central University, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and Xavier University of Louisiana reported bomb threats. No explosions occurred.

Multiple schools ordered evacuations or lockdowns and alerted local law enforcement. It was not immediately clear whether the threats were connected or whether they were racially motivated. By early Wednesday, all of the schools had released all-clear notices to their communities.

In many cases, the threats arrived in the midst of winter break, or to campuses much emptier than usual as school officials sought to keep people safe amid the pandemic.

“Although the threat was unfounded we ask that everyone remains vigilant,” a statement from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff said, adding that the full student body hadn’t yet returned from the holiday break but those who were there were relocated off campus.

At Howard, the start of the semester was delayed due to a surge of coronavirus cases in the D.C. area in December, so students were not on campus. They can begin moving in Jan. 14 for classes expected to begin Jan. 18. Administrative operations had resumed Monday, but most staff members are working remotely at the moment, according to a Howard spokeswoman, Kimberly Holmes-Iverson.

The university said D.C. police contacted Howard’s Department of Public Safety on Tuesday afternoon to alert them that their dispatch center had received an anonymous call saying that two bombs had been placed in Howard’s administration building. The two departments secured the perimeter, according to a statement from the university, evacuated the building and searched the area. No active devices were found, and the area was cleared.

Spelman College officials announced Wednesday that its Department of Public Safety and the Atlanta Police Department responded to a potential bomb threat in the Manley College Center on campus Tuesday. The building was secured after a search; no device was found, and Atlanta police continue to investigate.

A bomb threat was called in to Norfolk State University on Tuesday evening, school officials said in a statement. The university’s police chief, Brian Covington, said police relocated all students, faculty and staff to a safe location until the campus was cleared. The FBI and Norfolk Police Department are helping the university’s police department in the investigation.

Whitney Cruse, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Washington Field Office said they are collaborating with other law enforcement agencies in areas where the threats occurred.

“We have no current evidence that HBCU’s are specifically targeted,” Cruse said in a statement. “We are monitoring the events closely.”

The threatening messages arrived during the afternoon or evening, schools said. Pine Bluff officials said their school received a threat about 5:15 p.m.

Shortly after that, at about 5:30 p.m., North Carolina Central University police received a call regarding a bomb threat on campus.

The campus was immediately locked down, according to school officials, with an alert sent to students and employees. Multiple agencies, including ATF, law enforcement and fire departments worked with university police to ensure all buildings were cleared, according to a university statement. An all-clear was issued at 9:15 p.m.

The threats come after three Ivy League schools received similar threats in November and TikTok posts hinting at potential school shootings prompted a dozen school districts across the country to tighten security last month. Law enforcement officials later determined those threats were not credible.

Police give ‘all clear’ after bomb threat near U.S. Capitol triggered evacuation of multiple buildings

Nationally, the frequency of bomb threats has declined in the past two years, according to the latest tallies disclosed by a federal government data center. But the number of actual bombings has risen — a trend that forces schools to take threats more seriously.

In 2020, the most recent year for which the data center has published tallies, officials said 818 bomb threats had been documented. That figure was about a 20 percent drop from the previous year and about half of the 1,627 threats received in 2018.

But officials reported 428 bombing incidents in 2020, a 71 percent increase from the previous year and the highest number since 2016, when 439 bombings were documented by ATF.

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.