The Diocese of Covington, at the center of a controversy over students’ behavior during a confrontation with a Native American man last week, evacuated its offices Wednesday afternoon following reports of a suspicious package.
The evacuation, first reported by local media, which showed emergency responders outside the downtown Covington, Ky., buildings, appears to have been a false alarm.
Lt. Col. Brian Steffen, public information officer for the Covington Police Department, confirmed Thursday that the buildings are open again and that there are no ongoing threats.
The diocese has been responding to a quickly evolving nationwide controversy that erupted over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend after a video went viral showing a group of Covington Catholic High School boys on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, where students travel annually for the antiabortion March for Life.
One of the students was shown standing in front of Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder, who was beating a drum during the Indigenous Peoples March. A larger group of Covington Catholic students stood nearby, laughing and gesturing.
The diocese offices and school were both closed Tuesday because of threats and a planned protest by Native Americans, according to a statement on the diocese’s website.
“Due to threats of violence and the possibility of large crowds the Diocese was advised to close Covington Catholic High School, the Diocesan Curia and neighboring Covington Latin School,” the statement said.
The protest outside the diocese Tuesday morning attracted about 70 people, including many members of the media, and passed off peacefully.
The Diocese of Covington includes 47 parishes spread out from the edge of Appalachia near Maysville, some 60 miles away, to parishes within sight of Cincinnati’s skyscrapers. Parishes throughout the region feed students into Covington Catholic.
Mike Schafer, director of communications for the neighboring Cincinnati Archdiocese, said that over the weekend the Covington diocese was “slammed with messages and threats, very serious threats of violence.”
Steffen of the Covington Police Department said that packages looked suspicious to diocese staff who then alerted local police. The intentions of the senders remain unknown, he said.
He also said the Covington police are working closely with officers throughout Northern Kentucky, including in nearby Park Hills, where Covington Catholic High School is located, as the situation evolves.
The school reopened Wednesday with a heavy police presence at its entrances along Dixie Highway and with white vans blocking a neighboring parking lot that offered an overview of the sprawling campus of the all-boys school.
It was also open Thursday, following a 90-minute weather-related delay.
Steffen said no new suspicious packages had arrived Thursday, but he said the new measures reflected the changed circumstances in the community.
“Our response to the heightened security concern is proportional to the potential threat to the area,” he said.