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FBI investigating HBCU bomb threats as a hate crime, suspects juveniles may be involved

Historically Black colleges and universities throughout the country have been targeted in a string of threats this year

Multiple historically Black colleges and universities, including Howard University in Washington, have received bomb threats in recent weeks. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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The FBI is investigating a recent wave of bomb threats to historically Black colleges and universities as a hate crime, and has identified as many as six people — all juveniles — who investigators suspect were involved, officials familiar with the matter said.

No one has been publicly charged in connection with the threats, and the officials stressed that the investigation is still active.

Because of what the callers making the threats said — and because of the institutions targeted — the FBI is exploring the threats as being motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, one official said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the ongoing investigation.

FBI officials said in a statement Wednesday that the investigation, which was being led by its Joint Terrorism Task Forces and involved more than 20 field offices across the country, was “of the highest priority for the bureau.”

“Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the locations, the FBI takes all threats with the utmost seriousness and we are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats,” the bureau said.

Fear, anxiety follow third wave of bomb threats targeting HBCUs

The bureau said that in addition to colleges, houses of worship had also been targeted.

At least 16 universities closed or swept their campuses Tuesday after a spate of early-morning threats targeting historically Black campuses. The threats were part of a wave to hit schools this year. At least eight HBCUs were threatened Jan. 4, and at least six were targeted Monday.

On Tuesday, the schools targeted included: Rust College, Tougaloo College, Jackson State University and Alcorn State University in Mississippi, as well as Mississippi Valley State University; Fort Valley State University and Spelman College in Georgia; Morgan State University and Coppin State University in Maryland; Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri; Kentucky State University; Xavier University of Louisiana; Philander Smith College in Arkansas; Edward Waters University in Florida; Howard University; and the University of the District of Columbia.

New Jersey officials said hate was spiking. The FBI said numbers had fallen. It depends on what you count.

Howard, the target of three threats in just under a month, is on heightened alert, said Frank Tramble, a spokesman for the campus. Students on Tuesday reported feeling anxious and worried about the situation.

“We are working with the FBI and cooperating,” Tramble said. “But it’s an ongoing investigation, so we’re just supporting the FBI in any that we can.”

The threats have put a strain on the entire community, Howard officials said, and the campus will close Friday for a mental health day.

“Recent events, from the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic to the multiple bomb threats issued against our institution, have taken a toll on all members of our community,” said Wayne A.I. Frederick, the university’s president, in an email to the community. “It is my hope that we may return to our responsibilities on Monday rejuvenated and energized.”