At approximately 8:50 a.m. Thursday October 24th, in the peak of midterm exams, a student approached a UMPD officer on routine foot patrol of the library. The student (which the police report does not name) had found a concerning message in the men’s restroom in the Richter breezeway next to the Starbucks. Inside the center stall scribbled in black ink on the toilet paper dispenser it read, “this building will blow up 10/24/2013.”
According to the incident report, Lieutenant Lawrence assumed the role of incident commander and issued the decision “to evacuate the Richter Library as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of students and staff.” University students, staff, and officials were made aware of the situation through the Emergency Notification Network (ENN), which sent out the mass email at 10:27 a.m.:
Police and bomb-sniffing canines swept the building to negative results. At 12:08 p.m. Lieutenant Lawrence “gave the all clear and advised the building was safe to reopen and enter.”
This past December, emails were sent to two Harvard officials, an affiliate of Harvard University Police Department, and the president of the school newspaper The Harvard Crimson, saying that bombs had been placed in four buildings at Harvard University. This led to the the evacuation of all four buildings, the cancellation of several morning final examinations, as well as some afternoon exams, and a whirlwind of national media attention. According to the Harvard Crimson, the emails were sent using Guerilla Mail, an anonymous email address generator, and TOR, an application which generates an anonymous IP address. Officials were able to link Harvard sophomore Eldo Kim to the emails since he logged on to TOR using the Harvard network.
According to the affidavit provided by The Harvard Crimson, Kim was “motivated by a desire to avoid a final exam scheduled to be held [that day].” And that Kim was present for the exam when the fire alarm went off. If charged under the bomb hoax statue, Kim could face five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
Scott Burnotes, who runs the Office of Emergency Management at UM, explains that bomb threats during midterm and final exams are not that uncommon. “Students get stressed, they don’t want to take their exam, and they think an anonymous bomb threat will buy them some extra time to study. The sad thing is all the time they put into planning [the bomb threat] could go to into studying for the exam in the first place,” Burnotes explains.
There is no determined way to decide whether a bomb threat is real or unfounded, a student with a morbid agenda or one that is simply stressed from a tolling exam schedule. The decision to evacuate a building or not is a hard one to make as well. While a threat has been made and lives could be in danger, Burnotoes explains that by evacuating the building and cancelling classes the bomb threat orchestrator is having his demands met. “It’s almost like negotiating with a terrorist,” Burnotes adds.
However, Burnotes says that every ordeal his office faces helps improve it and make it more efficient. He likes to take away “teachable moments” as he calls them. “The Richter Library bomb threat taught us that between the first notification of the ENN every 30 minutes an update should be given at the top and middle of the hour even if it is just to say that no new information is provided,” Burnotes explains. After the Richter Library bomb threat, student government approached his office to explain that between the 10:27 a.m. email and the all-clear at 12:08 p.m. students were unsure and constantly refreshing the website on their phones and laptops in class for an update and any new information.
The culprit for the October 24 bomb threat was never found or charged.