Police at the University of Missouri have arrested a suspect who allegedly posted racial threats on social media.
Police arrested two college students in Missouri on Wednesday for making threats to black students that heightened tensions as the state’s flagship University of Missouri-Columbia campus has been roiled in recent weeks by racial strife.
Northwest Missouri State University student Connor Stottlemyre, 19, was arrested on suspicion of making a terrorist threat after he allegedly posted a threat on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak that read “I’m going to shoot any black people tomorrow, so be ready,” said university spokesman Mark Hornickel
Campus police were made aware of the threat by another student. The university issued a security alert to students and faculty at about 8:30 a.m. to inform them of the threat. Stottlemyre, of Blue Springs, Mo., was arrested at 11 a.m. at his dormitory on the Maryville campus.
In a separate incident, Hunter Park, of Lake St. Louis, Mo., was taken into custody around 1:50 a.m.Wednesday at a residence hall at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, in Rolla, Mo., where he is a student, the school said in a statement. Parks was taken into custody and transferred to the Boone County Jail in Columbia, where he was held on $4,500 bond.
No weapons were found during the investigation, the university said. Rolla is about 94 miles south of Columbia.
Threats of violence toward black students had raised concerns Tuesday night, as the school remained tense following the the toppling of the school’s leadership over racist campus incidents.
Park was also charged with making the alleged terrorist threat on Yik Yak.
Others tweeting from the university’s Columbia campus said people used racial epithets as they drove around the school, and a group of men walking with bandannas covering their faces yelled racial slurs at black students.
Wednesday afternoon, Hank Foley, incoming interim chancellor, said the University of Missouri “must not lose perspective during this critical time.”
“I know that some of our students, staff and faculty are feeling insecure,” Foley said. “I want to assure them that as we move forward toward a brighter future we are here, standing together and working hard not only to assure their safety but also to assure that every member of our Mizzou family is getting the individual help they need to make the most of the opportunities offered here.”
Garnett Stokes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, also released a statement saying school officials were proud of students for standing up for their ideals.
“We want to support them while continuing to assure an atmosphere of security and opportunity for all,” he said. “This can be a wonderful learning experience; we must treat each other with respect. We can and will look beyond our differences and heal the wounds that some have experienced.”
Park was transported to Columbia, where he was being held on $4,500 bond, according to the police statement.
The university said earlier on its website that the suspect was not at or near the Columbia campus at the time the threat was posted.
“Threats of violence of any kind are not tolerated,” says Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader. “As a campus, we are grateful that this situation did not escalate. I thank both of the police departments for their swift action in handling this case.”
MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said on Twitter that the suspect had used “multiple accounts” to threaten students. “He was never physically near the campus,” the chancellor said.
Shortly after the arrest was announced, Loftin tweeted that class would continue as usual on Wednesday “with increased security.”
A threat forced the evacuation Tuesday night of the university’s culture center where members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus was meeting with students, Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Democrat from Kansas City, said in a news release, according to the Columiba Daily Tribune. The caucus met with Loftin and student members of an activist group that has led campus protests against racial inequality.
In addition to the threats on social media, the Black Culture Center received a call that Tuesday night that was perceived as a threat, according to Maj. Brian Weimer, with the university police, KRCG TV reports. The doors to the center were locked as a precaution, the station reports. It was not immediately clear whether the phoned threat was linked to the arrest of a suspect in the social media posts.
David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, noted in a CNN interview that Yik Yak has been buzzing since Monday’s resignations with people “who are being very hurtful and we’re hearing a lot of people from the fringe that does not help the conversation go well.”
The student body was sent a mass email on Tuesday, asking students to report “hateful/and or hurtful speech” to campus police.
“Delays, including posting information to social media, can often reduce the chances of identifying the responsible parties,” the e-mail said. “While cases of hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes, if the individual(s) identified are students, MU’s Office of Student Conduct can take disciplinary action.”
Freelance photo journalist Bradley J. Rayford, who has covered unrest in Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore, Md., tweeted “Black students at #Mizzou are leaving campus right now due to threats received via social media.” He added that Some students said they didn’t feel safe because of threats on social media and may not come to campus tomorrow.
Some students on Twitter called on the university to cancel classes and issue an alert based on the threats and students’ anxiety.
Early Wednesday morning, the university sent out a message saying there was no immediate threat to campus.
The University of Missouri increased the number of available counselors on campus Wednesday citing the “security and well-being of students, faculty and staff.” Regularly scheduled classes and research operations continued as officials said they wanted to ensure that students were aware of resources available to them.
“We are increasing the number of available counselors and continue to have an after-hours phone line for students to call if they need to talk with someone,” Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, said in a statement. “The Counseling Center has its full staff ready to assist and has additional counselors on standby as needed. In addition, Counseling Center staff are actively reaching out to key student groups to offer assistance. 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.”
Contributing: Aamer Madhani
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