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U-Va. officials say 3 events are not a ‘trend of hate crimes’ on campus

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

University of Virginia officials said that three incidents that initially appeared to have been racially motivated in the past month were not linked, and that only one of the three appeared to be racially motivated.

The three events included a noose found wrapped around a statue on campus, a student vandalizing the African American Affairs office building and an “unusual” act of philanthropy left on the grass near the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.

Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis, an executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Tim Longo, the associate vice president for safety and security, said in a university-wide email sent this week that “the nature and timing of these events have caused some to speculate they are linked or part of a larger pattern of racially motivated crimes.” But the two wrote that there was “no current, visible trend of hate crimes or racially motivated acts.”

The first incident took place last month, when rocks were thrown through the window of a building on Dawson’s Row that houses the Office for African American Affairs. Campus police investigated and charged a student for the act of vandalism.

In the email sent this week, university officials said that the student was known to Office for African American Affairs staff members and was motivated by factors unrelated to racial bias.

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Last weekend, several people on campus reported seeing a flag with a symbol that looked like a crown or an owl on the grass near the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. There was also a check for $888.88 that was delivered as a surprise to a student’s room, bearing the same symbol as the flag. Some students speculated the flag represented a white supremacist organization and the check was an attempt to target a student of color, university officials said, but an investigation found that wasn’t the case.

The FBI and campus police found the act was done by an alumnus who is a part of a philanthropic organization that conducts random acts of kindness for students. The symbol on the flag, an owl, is meant to represent the group: Wise Investment Philanthropy. The check was delivered as an act of philanthropy, and the flag was left on the grass near the memorial “as a sign of respect,” university officials said.

But university officials said an incident that took place on Sept. 7 appeared to be a hate crime. A person left a noose around the Homer statue. Security footage from the time shows someone climbing a statue, placing a noose around its neck and leaving the scene by foot, according to campus police.

University officials said this week documents were also left near the scene of the crime but released little information about it because they didn’t want to compromise an investigation. One of the documents, they said, was a flier for an unrelated campus event.

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The other document said “TICK TOCK.” The FBI and campus police are investigating the document’s relevance and its relation to the noose.

Police have released photos of a suspect wearing a black jacket and jeans and of a vehicle they believe the suspect drove.

University officials declined to share further information, citing an ongoing investigation, but said there was no threat to public safety.

An anonymous donor has contributed to efforts to find the person who committed the crime, upping a $2,000 reward for information to $10,000, according to campus police.

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