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‘Ides of October’ threat poses more questions than answers

February 4, 2015

Last October, UW-River Falls received an anonymous threat that caused panic and fear throughout campus; three months later, nothing seems to have come of it.

Ambiguous information about the threat hit inboxes on Sept. 29, 2014. It caused curiosity and concern around campus that was hard to escape when written notices were placed on building doors all over campus telling everyone to look out for any suspicious activity and report it to police immediately.

The question causing concern was: what kind of suspicious activity?

On Oct. 10, 2014, UWRF Chief of Police Karl Fleury released an update that gave the specific details of the threat. It said: “Beware the Ides of October, the time is nigh and the bullets will fly.”

Just like that, fear spread through the campus. Rumors started to circulate, causing unnecessary panic and confusion. People didn’t know what to believe; they just knew the fear was real.

A week or so after the dreaded “Ides of October” passed, it became clear that most of the chaos that ensued surrounding the threat was caused by escalated rumors that fed the fire of fear that week. It’s likely the rumors started on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where people spread them like wildfire.

In an interview conducted in October 2014, Blake Fry, special assistant to the chancellor, said he heard rumors about stolen keycards, bomb threats and evacuations in the dorms, and clowns with weapons roaming the streets on campus, but problems really started when people treated the rumors as fact.

“I think people need to understand that when they start rumors like that it only causes panic among fellow students,” Fry said.

Arianna Pajtash, a senior at UWRF, said she believes that, even though the threat didn’t come to anything, the campus was definitely affected.

“I think a lot of people were honestly scared about it,” Pajtash said. “I did notice the night before, on some stupid app on smartphones, or whatever, people said there was an actual bomb threat then and I know people were freaking out about that because people had heard they were evacuating the dorms.”

The bomb threat turned out to be a rumor, as Pajtash discovered after some of her friends talked to resident assistants, who confirmed the rumors were not true.

As if the threat and rumors weren’t causing enough fear, the increased security that bombarded UWRF during the week surrounding Oct. 15, 2014, heightened everyone’s anxiety.

But the agents with headsets and weapons on campus are long gone and so is most of the anxiety they brought with them. However, Fleury said that the UWRF Police Department provides full-time police services to the campus, including motorized, foot and bicycle patrol.

In an email interview, Fleury emphasized the important role that students play in the safety of campus by reporting anything suspicious they see.

“The most important piece in all of this is you,” Fleury said. “The members of the campus community are a very important part of keeping campus safe.”

After all the chaos, it has become clear that the threat was just that—a threat that was meant to cause chaos. Pajtash said she thinks that whoever created the threat did it for attention.

“I wasn’t really all that worried about it just because of the fact that, who is honestly going to tell the exact date that they are going to have a threat? I think they just wanted a lot of attention,” Pajtash said.

The silver lining is that the stressful situation proved that the River Falls and UWRF community is strong in times of potential disaster. Fleury said that he has received positive feedback regarding the way the situation was handled by everyone in the community.

“The feedback from faculty, staff and students was very positive and supportive,” Fleury said. “All the officers that worked the campus detail in October were very impressed with our campus community and the positive feedback and support they received.”

Fleury also said that the case remains open and under investigation. He said the case is a priority and he asks people to contact the UWRF Police Department with any information regarding the threat.