Erik Vasys

As a spike in bomb threats at major universities continues across the country, many schools are preparing for the possibility that they will be the next target.

Since Friday’s bomb threat at UT, bomb threats have targeted Arkansas State University, Louisiana State University, UT-Brownsville, North Dakota State University and The University of Mississippi football players’ cars. As a result, major universities are taking notice, sending out safety messages and reviewing their emergency procedures in case they are the next target, said Allan Baron, Texas A&M Universtiy Police Department spokesperson.

“It’s a really difficult situation to deal with,” he said. “So, that’s the whole thing. I think a lot of these colleges and universities are taking an in-depth look.”

Baron said Texas A&M University has taken measures to increase campus awareness and review emergency plans of action.

“In light of the recent threats, we have made our staff and faculty aware of what the procedures are for reporting these incidents,” he said. “Also, we have discussed the different options that are available, that can be utilized in a situation such as what The University of Texas had on their campus, so that we can adequately deal with the whole situation.”

During UT’s evacuation, not everyone moved at least 300 feet away from evacuated buildings, which is the minimum evacuation distance listed in UT’s emergency plans. The alerts UT issued did not specificy the minimum evacuation distance listed in UT’s security plans.

Baron said he hopes Texas A&M University is able to properly evacuate people, should it recieve a bomb threat. He said, like UT, Texas A&M University also has a 300-foot minimum evacuation distance in case of possible hazards.

“That 300-foot radius, that’s really hard to control,” Baron said. “A lot of time and man-power has to be put into a situation like that, and it has to be done in a relatively short amount of time.”

Erik Vasys, spokesperson for the FBI office in San Antonio, said investigations into all recent bomb threats are ongoing, and he is not able to say whether there is a connection between any of the threats at this time.

“It could just be copy cats,” he said.

Officials said arrests have been made in connection with the threats to Louisiana State University, Arkansas State University and UT-Brownsville, but not in connection with the threats targeting UT, North Dakota State University and University of Mississippi football players’ cars.

Officials with the Oxford, Mississippi, Police Department said a man called 911 at 7:46 a.m. Tuesday and told the operator there were bombs in cars belonging to University of Mississippi football players. Police then tracked down all the players, searched their cars and deemed the threat false. No one has been arrested in relation to the Miss. bomb threat, said Mike Martin, Chief of the Oxford Police Department.

Kimberly Dandridge, student body president at the university, tweeted a copy of the University of Mississippi’s emergency-situation instructions Monday morning as a precaution. She said she couldn’t believe it when a threat was called in later that day.

Vasys said penalties for the individuals making these threats will be severe if they are caught.

A terroristic threat charge under Texas state law would be classified as a third degree felony in these cases. That comes with a penalty of 2 to 10 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000. Other states have varying penalties for the crime. Civil implications could exist as well.

University spokesperson Rhonda Weldon said she is unsure of the direct financial cost of Friday’s threat for UT, as it would be difficult for the University to calculate.

Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Universities respond to bomb threats

Computer sciences freshman Tyler Corley (left) and biology sophomore Sayde Pihota (right) read updates on the bomb threat from the UTPD text messaging system Friday morning.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

After the weekend, concern about the timeliness and language of the University’s response to Friday’s hoax bomb threat remains while FBI investigations are still ongoing.

Erik Vasys, San Antonio FBI spokesperson and agent, said the FBI takes all threats seriously and the investigation into this incident is ongoing. He would not elaborate on the details of the investigation.

The University ordered a campus-wide building evacuation at 9:50 a.m. Friday in response to a bomb threat that was called in 75 minutes earlier at 8:35 a.m. Many students said they were concerned the University waited too long to evacuate the buildings. The caller claimed the bombs “all over” campus would start detonating 90 minutes after his phone call, making the detonation time 10:05 a.m.

In this instance, the criminal consequence under state law for making a terrorist threat is a third degree felony, with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, as well as possible civil liabilities. If a terrorist threat meets certain specifications, such as disrupting public transportation, putting the public in fear and/or influencing government activities, then the crime is considered a third degree felony.

The University delayed registration-related deadlines originally set for Friday, including undergraduate add-drop and tuition payment, until 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17. As of Sunday night, the University had not sent a campus-wide email informing students of the extension.

At a press conference at noon Friday, UT President William Powers Jr. said he was extremely confident the University was safe. Powers said he could not elaborate on the details of the call and defended UT’s response to the incident.

Meanwhile, North Dakota State University also received a bomb threat. Vasys said the FBI is looking at the possibility of a connection between the two hoax calls. At Friday’s noon press conference, Powers said he could not say whether the two instances were related, but he did say the investigation team had information that they might be.

UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom said bomb threats at UT usually happen multiple times each semester.

“It doesn’t happen that often,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s very rare. I would say several a semester, and that’s just on average.”

Dahlstrom said the text message was sent at 9:50 a.m. Had the threat been real, the bombs would have gone off around 10:05 a.m., giving students less than 20 minutes to evacuate UT buildings and distance themselves away from campus.

“I think 9:50 a.m. was way too late to decide they were going to evacuate,” said Daniel Cortte, freshman architecture major. “It seemed to me like they were more concerned with finding out if it was real.”

Cortte said he saw students in buildings at 10:05 a.m.

Powers said the first action the University takes when a threat is made against campus is to determine if the threat is credible. He said if the threat had been of immediate danger, the University would have evacuated immediately.

Students can subscribe to the University’s text message alerts on UTPD’s website. But some students who said they are subscribed to the alerts said they did not get the messages.

Theater junior Chase Gladden said he did not receive the original evacuation alert text message because his classroom lacked reception. Another student who ran in late told the class about the text message.

“Once we all got outside of the building, we started receiving text message alerts, but I only received the follow-ups,” Gladden said.

The evacuation also left students off campus, living in the Riverside, Far West and East Campus areas with no way to get home for almost three hours.

Capital Metro UT shuttles could not enter campus after the evacuation was announced. Capital Metro spokesperson Erica Masioge said shuttles were back on their regular routes at 12:30 p.m. UT shuttles and regular routes that run through the University stopped running or were rerouted after UTPD informed Capital Metro about the evacuation at 10 a.m.

“We couldn’t get any bus to campus until we got the clear from the University,” she said.

Additional reporting by Mary Ellen Knewtson and Alexa Ura.

KILLEEN — An AWOL soldier who had weapons stashed in a motel room near Fort Hood admitted planning an attack on the Texas post, where 13 people died in 2009 in the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation, the Army said in an alert issued Thursday.

Pfc. Naser Abdo, a 21-year-old soldier who was granted conscientious objector status this year after he said his Muslim beliefs prevented him from fighting, was arrested Wednesday. Agents found firearms and "items that could be identified as bomb-making components, including gunpowder," in his motel room, according to FBI spokesman Erik Vasys.

The Army alert sent via email and obtained by The Associated Press says the man arrested by Killeen police "was in possession of a large quantity of ammunition, weapons and a bomb inside a backpack." Upon questioning, the alert says, he admitted to planning an attack on Fort Hood.

Officials have not offered details about Abdo's possible intentions. The infantry soldier from Garland, Texas, had applied for conscientious objector status last year. A military review board recommended this spring that he be separated from the Army.

But the discharge was delayed after he was charged with possessing child pornography and an Article 32 military hearing last month recommended he be court-martialed. He's been absent without leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., since the July 4 weekend.

Abdo's arrest came after the owners of a local gun store — the same store where the 2009 Fort Hood shootings suspect Maj. Nidal Hasan bought a pistol used in the attack — called police, the Army's alert said.

Store clerk Greg Ebert said the man arrived at Guns Galore LLC by taxi Tuesday and bought 6 pounds of smokeless gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun ammunition and a magazine for a semi-automatic pistol, paying about $250. Ebert said he became concerned when the man asked questions indicating he didn't know much about the items.

"(We) felt uncomfortable with his overall demeanor and the fact he didn't know what the hell he was buying," Ebert said. "I thought it prudent to contact the local authorities, which I did."

Killeen police learned from the taxi company that Abdo had been picked up from a local motel and that he also had visited an Army surplus store where he paid cash for a uniform bearing Fort Hood unit patches, according to the Army alert.

Vasys said the FBI would charge Abdo with possessing bomb-making components and he would be transferred from Killeen police into federal custody. Vasys said there was nothing to indicate Abdo was "working with others."

An Oklahoma attorney who has represented Abdo said Thursday he hadn't heard from Abdo in weeks and learned of the arrest from a Texas television station.

"I've been quite anxious to get in touch with him," said attorney James Branum.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, faces a possible death sentence when he is tried next year on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood.

The Army post issued a statement seeking to reassure the community after Abdo's arrest Thursday.

"At this time, there has been no incident at Fort Hood," the statement said. "We continue our diligence in keeping our force protection at appropriate levels."

Fort Campbell spokesman Rick Rzepka referred all questions to the Pentagon.