Government & Politics

Threats stoke fears at the University of Missouri

Across the street from the University of Missouri campus, the Campus Bar & Grill was closed on Wednesday in Columbia, although the campus itself remained open. University police said the campus remained safe, although many instructors canceled classes.
Across the street from the University of Missouri campus, the Campus Bar & Grill was closed on Wednesday in Columbia, although the campus itself remained open. University police said the campus remained safe, although many instructors canceled classes. kmyers@kcstar.com

University of Missouri campus police on Wednesday arrested a 19-year-old man suspected of posting online threats to shoot black students and faculty, adding to the racial tensions at the heart of the protests that led to the resignations Monday of the university system president and campus chancellor.

Hunter M. Park, a sophomore and computer science major at Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla, was arrested at a residence hall there early Wednesday. No weapons were found.

Park was jailed in Columbia on a preliminary charge of suspicion of making a terrorist threat. His bond was set at $4,500. Because the courts were closed for Veterans Day, Park will not go before a judge before Thursday.

Posts on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak and other social media Tuesday threatened to “shoot every black person I see.”

The volatile mood on the Mizzou campus remained apprehensive Wednesday after the threats of possible violence.

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The Board of Curators met for three hours, but emerged Wednesday evening with no new announcements. The curators said they planned to meet again on Thursday.

In a statement, MU Police Major Brian Weimer said the campus remained safe with additional officers on patrol.

“We investigated a number of reports and tips and take every one of them seriously,” he said.

There were other threats, and authorities didn’t say if additional arrests are possible. Another threat said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.” The message seemed to echo one that appeared on the website 4chan — a forum where racist and misogynistic comments are common — ahead of the deadly campus shooting at an Oregon community college last month.

The posts were widely disseminated across the Internet and local media.

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Weimer told The Associated Press that additional officers were already on campus before the university learned of the threats. University police were working with other state and local agencies to ensure the campus was secure, he said.

Vernon P. Howard Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Kansas City, said his group has been contacted by MU students saying they feel threatened by comments on social media. SCLC members are discussing traveling to Columbia to “stand by” students there who don’t feel safe.

University officials on Wednesday afternoon continued to reassure the campus.

“We are proud of our students for standing up for their ideals, and we want to support them while continuing to assure an atmosphere of security and opportunity for all,” said a statement from Garnett Stokes, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “This can be a wonderful learning experience; we must treat each other with respect.”

 

Hank Foley, incoming interim chancellor, said the university was moving “toward a brighter future.”

“We must not lose perspective during this critical time when some may feel insecure,” he said.

The normally bustling campus was eerily quiet Wednesday morning. Many instructors canceled classes and many students avoided the university altogether.

“The truth is, despite all of the threats on social media, I would still probably feel safe on campus were we to have class,” Bradley Harrison Smith, an English instructor and doctoral student at Mizzou, said in a note to his students. “But that’s because I am a white man. I would not feel safe at all were this not the case.”

One professor, however, challenged his students to come to class in order to prevent the “bullies” from winning.

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“If you don’t feel safe coming to class, then don’t come to class,” Dale Brigham wrote in an email to his Nutritional Science 1034 class. “I will be there, and there will be an exam administered in our class.

“If you give into bullies, they win,” his note to students went on. “The only way bullies are defeated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose.”

The note provoked an angry response. Brigham later told The AP that he eventually backtracked and told students they could take the exam on a later date. In response, however, he also offered his resignation, although university spokesman Christian Basi told The AP that he didn’t know yet whether the school had accepted the resignation.

One student tweeted that only 50 students showed up for a 500-person lecture class.

Missouri student body president Payton Head circulated incorrect reports Tuesday that Ku Klux Klan members had gathered on campus. He later apologized for the mistake.

A black student who’s been part of the campus protest told The Kansas City Star that other black students were leaving, to stay off campus with friends. “Just trying to be safe,” the student said.

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The resignations of MU President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin were preceded by reports of racial slurs. A protest movement grew out of dissatisfaction with the administration’s response. Graduate student Jonathan Butler staged a week-long hunger strike until Wolfe resigned.

The university has promised changes. Chuck Henson, a law professor and associate dean, was appointed Tuesday as the university’s first-ever interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.

The Board of Curators also announced a number of other initiatives, including more support for the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff and a full review of all policies related to staff and student conduct.

Also Wednesday, the Missouri Tigers were back to the business of football, though coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged the preparations for Saturday’s game against Brigham Young University at Arrowhead Stadium are not business as usual for the team. The Tigers boycotted football-related activities for two days as a show of support for student and faculty protests against the school’s leadership.

Pinkel said the current climate is anything but conducive to focusing on football, but he has asked his staff to stay in close contact with the players.

The school also announced Wednesday that it was increasing the number of available counselors and would continue to have an after-hours phone line for students to call if they need to talk with someone.

“In addition, Counseling Center staff are actively reaching out to key student groups to offer assistance,” said Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We know our students are still processing their emotions and feelings about the events over the last several days. I’m very thankful to our MUPD and our campus community for continuing to keep our campus safe.”

Gaby Rodriguez, a senior, said she was at work when she heard about the online threats.

“It’s really disheartening and proves the point of why these protests and boycotts were necessary,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this unsafe at Mizzou.”

A Starbucks barista was asking customers to leave shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday. The store was closing early because it couldn’t find enough staff willing to come in and work.

The Campus Bar & Grill, a popular watering hole just across the street from the MU campus, was closed Wednesday morning.

“Stay safe Mizzou,” a sign stated.

But student Steven Loughrige made his way to class as usual Wednesday morning. He said he never took the threats seriously because they appeared on social media.

“I’m just disappointed that it escalated,” said Loughrige, a junior studying engineering.

The Star’s Mará Rose Williams and Matt Campbell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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