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‘Ides of October’ passes without incident, but not without bravery, fear

October 16, 2014

The Ides of October has come and gone, but the campus threat has left its mark on the university, at least for now.

The campus security alert that originally hit inboxes on Sept. 29, took a turn for the worse on Friday, Oct. 10, when UW-River Falls Chief of Police Karl Fleury updated the original campus alert with the chilling details of the written communication.

The threat targeted Oct. 15, the Ides of October. According to Fleury’s update, the threat stated: “Beware the Ides of October, the time is nigh and the bullets will fly.”

River Falls Police Officer Lesa Woitas patrols the Career Fair and acts as security for the booths on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
River Falls Police Officer Lesa Woitas patrols the Career Fair and acts as security for the booths on Wednesday, Oct. 15. (Maggie Sanders/Student Voice)

And there it was, only 14 words long, yet very real and very frightening. Students, faculty and staff finally understood why every building entrance was plastered with the printed campus alert.

Chancellor Dean Van Galen assured all community members via an email around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, that the threat will, no matter what, be dealt with.

“Along with other campus leaders, I have been working closely with Chief Fleury on this matter,” Van Galen said. “Actions have, and will continue to be taken to enhance the safety of our campus in response to this threat, including actively involving other law enforcement agencies.”

Van Galen also went on to call the written communication “troubling and “understandably upsetting,” but more importantly he sternly addressed his belief in the community saying: “I know that the days ahead will be difficult for our campus, but I am convinced that challenging times can, and will, bring out the very best of who we are as a university community.”

According to the UWRF Police Department’s crime log, the UWRF mail room received a “threatening letter” on Sept. 5, at 9:35 a.m. Fleury has been, for obvious reasons, very tightlipped about the threatening letter, and he has neither denied or confirmed when and where the letter was received. He also declined to add anything further, stating: “At this time the case remains under investigation and we have no additional information to release.”

Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry made clear the university’s thoughts on threats received.

“We don’t want to set a precedent that every time an anonymous threat comes into the campus we’re cancelling all classes,” Fry said.

Worried parents aside, Fry and the Chancellor stood their ground, which proved to be the right decision, and some students agreed.

“I am not afraid of the threat,” said UWRF student Eduarda Bortoluzzi. “I am just a little concerned, but I don’t think the threat is like, for real.”

What some students may not realize is that this month’s threat comes five years removed from a similar threat aimed at black and Asian students in mid-October of 2009, where graffiti was discovered in Davee Library. Nothing ever came of that threat in 2009, and the hope is that nothing will occur this time around in the days following Oct. 15.

“It’s probably just some wacko looking for attention,” said Edward Welsh, professor of plant and earth science.

Many professors cancelled or made class optional on Oct. 15, including Welsh. Some professors pushed test dates or even gave extra credit to students who attended.

The tone on campus grew grim on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 14, as rumors spread like wildfire about buildings being evacuated because of bomb threats. There were rumors that both the Karges Center and May Hall were evacuated.

Student Senate President Anthony Sumnicht, via Facebook and Twitter, released a statement late Tuesday night addressing the rumors: “Remember we are a community, and it is unacceptable to take advantage of this situation to harass and scare your fellow students.”

There were also rumors about students in clown costumes holding guns, sneaking around campus on Tuesday night, as well as hacked email messages from professors claiming Oct. 15 was going to be “memorable.” Imaginations were running wild; paranoia was sinking in.

“It’s absolutely mind-boggling,” said UWRF student Cody Prokop. “I think it’s completely absurd.”

On Wednesday morning a police officer in street clothes, who declined to give his name, said “things like this happen; campus sees us as an entity to keep them safe.”

The officer, who was stationed outside the University Center, did not know how many other officers there were in total, only that he was simply assigned to a spot on campus. He also mentioned that he remembered a similar situation 15 years ago at UWRF.

Health and human performance Instructor Robert Ritzer said that a state trooper had walked past his office twice between 9-10:30 a.m on Wednesday morning. Ritzer did not seemed worried about the extra security, Wednesday was “business as usual.” Some UWRF students were voicing their darkly comedic opinions about the threat via Twitter, using “uwrfthreat” as a hashtag.

“UWRF is like ‘The Hunger Games,’ may the odds be ever in your favor,” said UWRF student Alyssa Grotegut.

“Made it to and from class without getting shot, so there’s a plus!” said UWRF student Shayna Schroeder.

River Falls Police Officer Matt Peterson sits in his patrol car outside the Kleinpell Fine Arts building off Cascade Avenue on Oct. 15.
River Falls Police Officer Matt Peterson sits in his patrol car outside the Kleinpell Fine Arts building off Cascade Avenue on Oct. 15. (Maggie Sanders/Student Voice)

Laughter is one possible solution for the intense situation the university has been cast into, but English professor Kenneth Price cancelled his classes on Wednesday. Price, who has taught at multiple universities, said he thought he had seen it all.

Davee Library closed at 8 p.m. on Wednesday for unknown reasons. Library staff members would not specify the reasoning behind the closure. One would assume it was merely a precautionary method, but some students were not the least bit shaken by the written threat.

“I put on my big boy pants and I kept a stiff upper lip and I didn’t let some 16-year-old wannabe poet dictate what I’m doing with my life,” said UWRF student Benjamin Plunkett.

Nothing has come of the threat as of yet and the university obviously hopes things stay that way. Two things were made clear over the last couple of weeks. First, a large majority of students, faculty and staff were legitimately worried about their immediate safety. Second, the UWRF Police Department with the help of other agencies, such as the Wisconsin State Patrol, had the situation well under control. It’s a shame, the Ides of October turned out to be a calm, sunny, refreshing day.

“I woke up and looked to the window and I saw this beautiful day,” said UWRF student Luis Felipe Feitoza. “And I saw people playing lacrosse, playing basketball, playing volleyball outside, and I feel comfortable to get lunch and to enjoy the day.”

Reporting was contributed by Carmella Everhart and Jack Haren. Hayden Bosch contributed research.