Police investigating a potential bomb threat at the Newton Gresham Library have issued an “all clear” and reopened the building to students, faculty and staff.
At approximately 12:14 p.m. Wednesday, police were contacted by library staff following a student’s discovery of a note indicating there was a bomb on the third floor of the library, said James Fitch, the University Police Department deputy chief.
The note was found on the second floor of the building, he said.
Officers from the University Police Department, the Huntsville Police Department, the Walker County Sheriffs Office and the Texas Rangers responded to the scene, and students were subsequently evacuated from the building.
Bomb-sniffing dogs from Conroe also arrived on the scene 45 minutes later, Fitch said.
None of the surrounding buildings was evacuated.
Some students at the scene said they were a little too close to the action.
“When we exited the building, we were sitting right outside,” Jessica Ebbs, a junior accounting major said. “We didn’t think it was anything big ,[and] we didn’t freak out until they started pushing us back from the building. They were slowly pushing us away from the building and then they pushed us really far back. It [was] not far enough from the building if there was an actual bomb on campus.”
Fitch, however, disagrees. He said a command post was set up immediately upon officers’ arrival and they adjusted the distance between the students and the building as officers gathered new information.
“Contrary to popular belief, we actually do know what we’re doing,” Fitch said. “With a building as large as the library it would have taken a massive bomb to affect other buildings. We pushed everyone back about 100 yards.”
Ebbs, who was on the third floor of the building at the time of the incident studying for finals with her friend, Ashley Morris, a junior business major, said the library’s PA system initially informed students of the potential danger.
“They came on and said ‘Please evacuate the building immediately. This is not a drill,'” Ebbs said. “We actually didn’t know what was going on until about 30 minutes later. Everyone was unsure.”
Margaret Dawson, an English graduate student, provides a similar account of the event.
“They just told us we have to leave and it wasn’t a drill,” Dawson said. “We could not use our cell phones. It was calm, [and] there was no running.”
Ebbs also said she thinks the Nerf gunman scare, which occurred in late October of this year, caused students to be a bit more aloof about a potential bomb threat than was necessary.
“After the past Nerf gun thing, a lot of people are thinking of [the bomb threat] as kind of like a joke …When you start thinking about it though, it’s kind of scary,” Ebbs said. “A lot of students were freaking out and getting off campus, but, at the same time, the other half of the people were standing as close to the building as possible, thinking it’s just a big joke.”
Originally, police also thought the letter could’ve been a joke.
“From the get go, we knew from just looking at the note and the evidence before us we knew that the chances were pretty high that this was a false report or a hoax[, but] we decided not to take any chances,” Fitch said.
He could not comment; however, on what about the note revealed to police that it was fake, as the investigation is still ongoing.
There are currently no suspects, and police are unsure whether they will develop any leads on who left the note.
“There are cameras [in the library], but I don’t know if the cameras are going to be in the right area to help us identify a suspect,” Fitch said.
If the suspect is identified, he or she would be charged with giving false alarm or report. A false alarm or report is defined as knowingly initiating, communicating or circulating a report of a pass or future bombing, fire, offense or other emergency the he or she knows is false or baseless, according to the Texas Penal Code.
This report would also have to do the following: cause action by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies, place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or prevent or interrupt the occupation of a building, room or place of assembly.
This kind of offense would normally be labeled as Class A misdemeanor. However, since this incident occurred at public university, the offense will become a state jail felony, Fitch said.
A state jail felony is punishable up to two years. It has a maximum fine of $10,000.
“When it comes to the safety of the students, faculty, and staff, we have to take everything seriously,” Fitch said. “We are asking that if anyone knows anything about who left this note or who knows any other information to contact us.”
The University Police Department may be reached by telephone at 936-294-1794.
Editor-in-Chief Meagan Ellsworth and Senior Reporter Kolby Flowers contributed to this article.