In an alert posted Wednesday morning, university officials announced, “To allow law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation of the continuing threat and ensure the safety of our campus community, all Eastern Kentucky University campuses will cancel classes beginning today, October 7th, 2015, at 10:00 AM and will close Thursday, October 8th and Friday October 9th, 2015.”
Police presence on campus would increase, they said.
The EKU police have not been able to substantiate a specific threat against a specific building but asked for tips, and the university offered a $10,000 reward for identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people who wrote the graffiti.
Some students had shrugged off the threat early on. But Katie Scott, president of the Student Government Association, said she thinks many changed their minds after the closure was announced. “The administration believes it’s enough of a threat to want to get students off campus,” Scott said; she saw a dramatic decline in the number of students on campus during the day. “A lot of students have already retreated back to our home towns.”
The Powell Building, the student center, is in the heart of campus. “You can’t get from one side of campus to the other without passing it.”
Some students stepped forward to report to administrators troubling messages they had seen on social media, Scott said. “The social media threats, a lot made anonymously, on YikYak, 4chan and Snapchat — those have been escalating.”
The “BU” in the message some students speculated was for “Beta Uprising,” a term that has been used with anonymous violent threats. “That was a popular theory that circulated very widely around our campus yesterday,” Scott said. Before that, there was a picture of a student in a Guy Fawkes mask saying, ” ‘Things are about to get interesting.’ It was posted on Snapchat,” an unofficial EKU Snapchat site, she said.
Scott said the campus is very well protected, with a strong university police force and other agencies making a visible presence in recent days. Only police officers are allowed to carry guns on the campus, which includes a K-12 school; there are a few exceptions carved out for people with concealed-carry licenses.
In the days after a student gunned down nine people at a community college in Oregon, threats have been taken very seriously by university officials at campuses across the country.
Colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area spent Monday on alert after an FBI warning that a threat had been made on the social media site 4chan about violence on a campus that day.
Several colleges across the country issued warnings or locked down Monday.
Threats of violence are a common challenge for school officials, said S. Daniel Carter, director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation’s 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, and there is often a surge of copycat threats after a high-profile incident such as last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. “One of the biggest challengs is we do know that most of them are just that — copycat threats — they’re not necessarily based in an actual threat, but they have to be taken seriously.”
A threatening message was found in a bathroom on campus at EKU in February. Classes were not canceled at that time.
Richmond Police Department and EKU police spokesmen referred questions to the university. A spokesman for EKU declined to comment beyond the information that has been publicly released. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
At EKU, a public university in Richmond, Ky., President Michael Benson wrote a letter to the campus community announcing that the college would be closed until after fall break ends next Wednesday:
When you choose to learn or work at this university, you become part of the EKU family. This week I have asked each of you to look out for each other and work together following a disturbing threat of violence on our campus. My sincere thanks for the solidarity you have demonstrated, and the genuine care and concern many of you have expressed for your fellow Colonels. …Our primary goals in assessing this situation are limiting any safety risks and avoiding disruption to learning and teaching. While we are confident the responding team of law enforcement agencies has kept a watchful eye over our community and is diligently investigating the threat, it has become clear this incident continues to be unsettling to a number of our students, faculty and staff.”
He said that updates about events and services on campus would be posted online and closed with,
We must continue to look out for each other and strive to create and maintain a safe environment where faculty can teach, staff can serve, and students can learn.Thank you for your continued diligence. As with challenges in the past, this one will be met and we will move forward – together – in the coming weeks and months.