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May Hall evacuated due to bomb scare

November 1, 2007

On Oct. 27, 2007, Brittany Kerschner, a student employee of May Hall was organizing mail at the front desk when she noticed an unusual “ticking” noise coming from one of the packages. Upon first investigation of the package, she noted that it was excessively taped, and could not find the resident’s name or address that the package was intended for. The parcel did however, contain a return address. After the May Hall manager was contacted, the decision was made to call public safety, and later the River Falls Police Department to further assess the situation.

After evaluating the situation, at 3:25 p.m., the RFPD chose to take precautionary measures, and evacuate both May Hall and the connecting Emogene A. Nelson Center. Not wanting to cause unnecessary panic, the RFPD knocked on residents’ doors and asked them to leave the building immediately, instead of pulling a fire alarm. Also, if authorities proceeded to sound the fire alarm, it could have detonated the potential bomb, as some bombs are designated to be triggered by pulling an alarm. The police also closed Spruce Street and opened Karges Center for May Hall residents. Given that the situation occurred on Saturday afternoon, the majority of students residing in May Hall had left for the weekend. Thus, only 25 students were asked to leave the building.

At approximately 4 p.m., authorities determined that the package had caused enough suspicion to contact a bomb squad.

“We weren’t able to confirm any data about the package,” River Falls Chief of Police, Roger Leque said.

Due to out of state insurance liability issues, the bomb squad from the Twin Cities was unable to assist local authorities. Thus, the bomb squad from Marathon County was called upon for assistance at 6 p.m. However, because Marathon County is roughly 158 miles away, they were not able to arrive on the scene until 8:30 p.m.

The River Falls ambulance crew and fire department joined the RFPD and UW-River Falls officials to give aid whenever necessary.

Upon the bomb squad’s arrival, the parcel was immediately inspected through and X-ray when it was determined that the package did contain suspicious wires. It was then decided that the package would have to be detonated within the May Hall mailroom.

At this time, a call from police dispatchers reported a fire at Lab Farm One. While a number of authorities remained on the scene of May Hall, members of the police force as well as the fire department, reported to the Lab Farm immediately.

Although an additional emergency was now of concern, the bomb squad focused on the detonation of the package using their own ordinance. The removal of the package’s exterior revealed that the parcel’s contents contained a musical greeting card, which produced the “ticking” noise. Upon further investigation, the address the package was intended for was located on the opposite side of the packaging. At 10:05 p.m., May Hall residents were allowed to return to their rooms.

After the completion of the ordeal, Officer Leque praised city authorities and UWRF staff for handling the situation carefully.

“I think it was handled the way it should have been and professionally. We have an expectation that we’re going to utilize our training and experience. We have to always take the necessary precautions,” said Leque.

Special Assistant to the Chancellor, Blake Fry was also satisfied with the way the potential threat was handled.

“I am very pleased with how the situation was handled,” Fry said.

He also discussed improvements that will be made in future situations, which focused on a bomb squad response occurring much quicker. Fry also hopes the campus will become more proactive about informing the entire campus community about future incidents. By communicating to the campus, he hopes to prevent rumors with inaccurate information from formulating.