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Threat of Violence: Anonymous online post spurs heightened security on campus

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OSU PD and bomb sniffing dogs were seen outside Thompson Library on Oct. 27. Police said they were there to answer questions for students and to walk around the area. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU PD and bomb sniffing dogs were seen outside Thompson Library on Oct. 27. Police said they were there to answer questions for students and to walk around the area. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

Accompanied by overcast skies, the presence of a potential threat loomed over campus for most of Tuesday.

“Today is a rainy day, but I actually noticed (significantly) less people walking outside,” said Brice Tugbenyoh, a fourth-year in microbiology. “I thought it was a little bit irregular, but I didn’t take too much thought to it until I saw the email.”

The Ohio State Department of Public Safety sent a bulk email warning shortly after midnight on Tuesday after an anonymous “threat of violence to the campus community” was posted online.

The email, sent to students, staff and faculty, stated the threat was made online but offered no other details as to when the threat was received or to its nature. Despite the lack of additional information, Nicolette Genter, a first-year in finance, said she was concerned.

“The email from the university definitely made me take it seriously,” she said. “There (were) a bunch of rumors flying around, but just because we’re such a big campus, it wouldn’t be surprising for us to be a target. We’re a popular university, we have a lot of publicity with the championship and stuff. A lot of people know Ohio State.”

OSU became aware of the threat late Monday evening, after receiving a call to the University Police non-emergency line, as well as an email containing additional information, including the quoted threat.

The original post was discovered by Wes Platt, creator of OtherSpace, the online gaming platform to which the threat was first published. After seeing the threat, which was translated from the constructed international language Esperanto to read, “If you live in the Ohio State University, I warn you. Tomorrow at 15 hours, I will kill students and teachers with guns. I have guns and explosives in my room, which I will use,” Platt first contacted University Police and then the FBI. The threatening party posted the threat using Tor, a software that enables anonymity online.

“The fact that it’s being done from a Tor site means it could be done (from) Columbus, it could be Orlando, it could be from Europe, it could be from anywhere,” Platt said. “I think it’s just somebody pulling a prank or a hoax. Certainly hope that’s the case, but I’m not gonna be the guy that says, ‘Oh that’s just a hoax,’ and do nothing about it. I’m gonna tell people because they need to know and have that information so they can act accordingly.”

Platt said this is not the first time OSU has been threatened on the site, though. A similar threat, also targeting OSU, was posted on OtherSpace two years ago.

Chris Davey, a university spokesman, said although the university takes any threat of violence seriously, it was important that the university did not stop operating as normal.

“(OSU Police) is still involved with law enforcement partners in investigating the source of this threat,” he said Tuesday evening. “However, I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where an anonymous threat posted in Esperanto on a gaming bulletin board can close one of the largest universities in the world. So, you are vigilant, you investigate, you share information with the community, and continue on with the important business of the university.”

Throughout the day on Tuesday, rumors circulated on social media: one of a screaming man storming into a Starbucks, another of someone walking through the Oval carrying a bag of guns. University Police dispelled the latter rumor, telling The Lantern that no arrests were made on the Oval and police were patrolling the area.

Following the dissemination of some of these alleged accounts, the Department of Public Safety sent a second email, with the quoted threat included, about 12 hours after the initial email.

“We wanted the community to know that there was a threat, but there was certain information that law enforcement was interested in not disclosing immediately for the purposes of maintaining the integrity of the law enforcement investigation,” Davey said. “Subsequently, some of that information made its way onto social media and so the university then went ahead and shared that information with the broader community as well.”

Although individual professors cancelled classes and University President Michael Drake tweeted a message asking faculty to “show flexibility to students,” some students expressed surprise that classes were not cancelled university-wide.

“For precautionary purposes, I would say that (cancelling) classes … may interfere with some of the teachers’ schedules because I know some classes are taking midterms this week,” Tugbenyoh said. “But, I mean, if it’s in the best interest of the students’ safety, I think that it is a necessary tradeoff.”

But Curtis Israel, a graduate student in biophysics, said he supports the decision to not cancel classes.

“It was fine to have classes today,” he said. “The way everything was handled, (the university) took the threat seriously as they should, but I think from the information they had they knew it was very improbable that it was actually going to happen so I think they handled it pretty well.”

The Department of Public Safety released a final update on Tuesday at 5:40 p.m, which stated that the “immediate window of concern has passed.”

“Appropriate precautionary measures will continue to be taken, including a visible public safety presence on campus. The safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is our top priority,” the update stated.

Davey said University Police worked with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on Tuesday, and added that they will continue to investigate.

“The community came together, here at Ohio State, and worked with law enforcement, and we saw a good, positive police presence, and we saw a very positive response from the community to this situation,” he said. “With social media and the interconnectedness that we have, it’s important to have the community come together in partnership to respond to situations like this, and I think that’s what we saw at Ohio State today.”

Members of the OSU community are encouraged to remain vigilant, aware and to report any suspicious activity to University Police by calling 614-292-2121, or by dialing 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency.

One comment

  1. Esperanto (the word means “one who hopes” was designed to promote mutual understanding and peace among people with different primary languages. Of course, as with any language, it can be used to say anything, but this is a desecration of the meaning and purpose of the International Language.
    I’m a former President of Esperanto-USA

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