Education

EKU cancels classes through Friday after threat; football game moved to Georgetown

Graffiti found in a restroom in the Powell Building on the Eastern Kentucky University campus.
Graffiti found in a restroom in the Powell Building on the Eastern Kentucky University campus. Eastern Kentucky University Police Department

Eastern Kentucky University canceled all classes on all of its campuses through Friday in part because of threatening graffiti on a bathroom wall on the Richmond campus.

"While there is no evidence of an imminent danger, there has been an escalation in the threat, originating from social media," the EKU Department of Public Safety said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

The university is working with the FBI, Kentucky State Police and Richmond police on the threat, the second to have paralyzed the Richmond school this year.

EKU officials, who declined to give interviews, said the school's police department had not substantiated a threat against any specific part of campus.

"Essential services, such as university housing and dining services, will remain open, and police presence around the campus will continue to be increased. Some special events may continue as planned, with increased security presence," the university said in its statement.

Those special events include a football game in a different location: Thursday night's home game against Tennessee Tech has been moved to Toyota Stadium at Georgetown College, EKU President Michael Benson announced Wednesday afternoon. The game is to start at 7 p.m.

An EKU home women's soccer game against Southeast Missouri has been moved to Transylvania University's Pat Deacon Stadium, EKU officials said. The game is set for 1 p.m. Thursday.

A performance Wednesday night of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at the EKU Center for the Arts was canceled.

Early Monday, EKU issued a public safety alert about graffiti with threatening language found in a bathroom in the Powell Building on Sunday. The graffiti said: "KILL ALL BY 10/8/15 THIS BU OOP." Police have not said what "BU OOP" might be referring to.

In response to the threat, the Model Laboratory School for younger children on the EKU campus canceled classes through Thursday.

EKU has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible person or persons.

EKU's fall break had been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, so classes will not resume until next Wednesday.

Christopher Payton, editor in chief of the student newspaper, Eastern Progress, said Wednesday morning that campus is largely deserted.

"There is no one here, practically," Payton said.

Payton, who was working with staff to update the Progress website, said he has no idea whether EKU officials are overreacting. The school is in the middle of midterm exams, and Payton said some people have asked whether the threat could be a handy way to avoid exams.

In February, someone wrote a similar graffiti threat in a campus bathroom, prompting officials to allow students and faculty to avoid campus for one day without penalty.

"Everyone knew that was someone raising smoke, but this seems more serious," Payton said.

The most recent threat covers a range of days ending Thursday, and officials said they had received more threats on social media.

"They must have something that we don't know about," Payton said.

The situation is particularly sensitive because of the Oct. 1 mass shooting that killed nine people at an Oregon community college, said Kim Richmond, executive director of the National Center for Campus Public Safety in Burlington, Vt.

The FBI has found that copycat threats are more common after such events, but school administrators can't afford to dismiss them.

"It's an impossible situation. You're balancing between overreaction and keeping your fingers crossed," Richmond said. "It's a big decision to shut down campus for three days, so I have to believe they have a lot of information that concerns them enough to do that."

Steven Healy, co-founder of Margolis Healy, a campus security consulting company, said every school needs to have a process to evaluate all threats, no matter where they come from.

"If that process leads you to close for three days, then so be it," he said.

Anyone with information relating to a specific threat is asked to contact EKU Police at (859) 622-1111.

The Kentucky State Police post in Richmond has provided assistance to EKU police, both in patrols and on the investigation in a support capacity, state police spokesman Robert Purdy said.

"We've provided extra patrols and more of a presence on campus," Purdy said. "More officer presence can help deter criminal activity."

The graffiti has already prompted a copycat. Vickie Fritz, the principal of Clark-Moores Middle School in Madison County, sent a letter to parents Tuesday after officials found a threatening message on a school bathroom wall.

"In working with Richmond Police Department, we have every reason to believe the message posted on the wall of the bathroom was a copycat of the message posted on the bathroom wall at Eastern Kentucky University this weekend," Fritz said in the letter.

The student was caught and disciplined, and no one was harmed, Madison County Public Schools spokeswoman Erin Stewart said. Classes stayed on schedule.

"Given the threat at Eastern this week and of course the campus shooting last week in Oregon, we tried to assure everybody that we've taken the necessary precautions," Stewart said. "We have no reason to believe there's any real threat to students."

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