Classes canceled but UT campus reopens after threat

Posted Friday, Sep. 14, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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After a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of the entire University of Texas at Austin campus Friday morning, school officials canceled classes for the remainder of the day. But a search of the campus found no bombs and students were allowed back on campus at noon.

During a noon press conference, UT Austin President William Powers said school officials were comfortable allowing students back on campus.

"We are very confident that the campus is safe," Power said.

When officials received the threat, Powers said he believed the evacuation "was the prudent thing to do," given the nature of the threat. But Powers said they tried to evaluate the threat before making the evacuation order since the caller warned the bombs would go off no earlier than 10 a.m.

The press conference brought an end to a tense morning that started with a phone call as students were in morning classes.

"At 8:35 a.m. the university received a call from a male with a Middle Eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus," UT officials said in a statement. "He said he was with Al Qaeda and these bombs would go off in 90 minutes. President Powers was notified and it was decided to evacuate all of the buildings out of an abundance of caution."

When university officials sent out an order to evacuate, students and faculty received phone text messages and e-mail telling them "immediately evacuate ALL buildings and get as far away as possible."

UT wasn't alone in receiving threats on Friday.

North Dakota State University also evacuated its Fargo campus because of a similar bomb threat and Valparaiso University in Indiana also had unspecified threats that officials at that school said were "substantially different" from the other threats.

UT student Jimmy Leing of Lewisville said he was on campus when students learned about the threat.

"We were taking a break in class and were all checking our phones when we got the text to evacuate," said Leing, who added he wouldn't return to campus today.

One UT faculty member said he got back into his office shortly before noon.

Snehal Shingavi, a UT assistant professor of English, said the sirens went off at 9:50 a.m. and faculty and students left buildings and congregated on the green between UT's Tower and Littlefield Fountain until they were told get off the campus completely.

"There were a lot of us huddled into a cafe trying to figure out what was going on," he said.

With early reports mentioning that the caller said he was with Al-Qaeda, Shingavi worried that some would take those rumors as fact and Muslim or Middle Eastern students would become targets. Shingavi said he is not Muslim, but he wanted that student community to feel safe.

"The narrative gets ahead of the fact," he said. "That narrative, once released, becomes much harder to dispel."

The event and ensuing rumors become a global phenomena with continuous news coverage tying the threats to terrorism, he said.

"We will be talking about terrorism on college campuses all next week," he said.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

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