More U.S. Black colleges and universities receive bomb threats

By Julia Harte and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) -At least a dozen historically Black colleges and universities in the United States received bomb threats and put their campuses on lockdown on Tuesday, a day after a rash of similar threats forced the cancellation of classes at other schools.

The threats against the schools in cities from Baltimore to New Orleans came on the first day of Black History Month in the United States.

“We don’t think it’s by coincidence that we received this particular threat at this particular time,” said A. Zachary Faison, Jr., the president of Florida’s Edward Waters University in Jacksonville.

Schools officials called for a thorough investigation.

A caller warned the Jacksonville sheriff’s office around 3:30 AM (EST) on Tuesday that “multiple explosive devices” had been placed around the Edward Waters campus and would be detonated 12 hours later, followed by a school shooting, according to Faison.

Faison said local law enforcement were still patrolling his campus with dogs as of midday Tuesday. The Jacksonville sheriff’s office declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.

The threats come as the United States continues to reckon with racial injustice following recent years’ high-profile killings of Black Americans such as George Floyd and a pitched battle over teaching in public schools of “critical race theory,” which puts the history of institutionalized racism into a larger context.

U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, called Tuesday’s threats against the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) “incredibly disturbing and disheartening” in a statement, and asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to fully investigate them.

“It is not lost on me that these threats are targeting African American educational institutions at a time when we are observing Black History Month,” Thompson said in the statement.

The FBI is “aware” of the bomb threats and “working with our law enforcement partners to address any potential threats,” it said in a statement. It encouraged members of the public to report anything suspicious to the bureau.

Howard University in Washington, Morgan State University in Maryland, Spelman College in Georgia and Xavier University of Louisiana were among the HBCUs that received threats, according to Twitter posts and statements from the schools.

“We have contacted local and federal officials to request reinforcements of campus security and request that a federal investigation of these threats be undertaken immediately,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College, in a statement.

By noon on Tuesday, at least six of the HBCUs that received threats had investigated them and issued “all clear” messages, though some, including Spelman and Tougaloo College in Mississippi, were still holding class virtually for the day.

Tougaloo has never before received a threat like the one it did on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson for the university.

On Monday, several other HBCUs told students and staff to shelter in place and canceled classes for the day after similar bomb threats. Authorities said they did not find any suspicious devices, allowing the schools to reopen.

Howard University, one of the HBCUs that also received threats on Monday, gave the all clear Tuesday morning after the campus received a threat at around 2:55 a.m., it said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mark Porter)

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