Rare bomb threat leads to campus lockdown, searches; investigation continues

State law enforcement and Norwich officials continue to investigate who was responsible for a bomb threat that disrupted campus on Jan. 22.

During the early hours that Friday, a bomb threat was found by members of facilities operations written on a chalkboard in the math and science complex, commonly known as the U building.

“At about three in the morning (the security office) received a call from the custodial staff that a threat was written on a classroom chalkboard,” said Michael Abraham, chief of Norwich’s security and safety department.

Pictures taken by the nighttime custodial supervisor showed the melodramatic message scrawled across two boards: “I have the detonator…and you will never find me T – 16hrs ;). I’m employed by something darker…MY MIND. You can’t find me. You never will. Tick, tick, tick BOOM! Welcome 2 my nightmare.”

According to the official incident report from that date, the security officer on duty immediately placed a call to the Vermont State Police in Middlesex requesting assistance. The state police then dispatched a local Northfield police department officer to the scene.

“An officer responded to Norwich University to assist school officials and investigate some suspicious writing located inside one of the academic buildings,” read the official Northfield police press release.

According to the report, the nighttime custodial staff ensured that the building was clear of all personnel. Following that, the staff linked up with the security officers and Northfield Police in order to organize an appropriate response.

Sgt. Brian Hoar, a 10-year veteran of the Northfield Police department, was the officer on call that night.

“Since the investigation is active, I can’t really talk about the particulars of (the case), but we have a very good working relationship with the security department,” said Hoar. “We have our own SOP (standard operating procedure) for responses and we work in conjunction with (the security department’s) preplanned action.”

A search of the building began at approximately 4 a.m. Based on the recommendations of Sgt. Hoar, the staff split into three groups in order to search the building for anything out of the ordinary.

“One of the concerns was that there were no guarantees,” Abraham said. “If someone wants to hide something somewhere – and they do a good job – we may not be able to find it. We placed a request to the state police for a bomb dog, but they denied our request.”

“It is a judgment call,” said Capt. James Whitcomb, commander of the Middlesex state police barracks, which is located just off Exit 9 five miles north of Montpelier n I-89.

“We only have two bomb dogs in the state, and we receive a lot of bomb threats. Unless there are additional facts, like a backpack, or prior knowledge of the threat, we cannot respond to every threat,” he said.

Following the initial sweep, around 5 a.m. in the morning, Abraham posted a notice at all the entrances of the building which stated, “The U Building has been searched by security, custodial staff and Northfield Police…security and Northfield Police believe the threat was a hoax.”

The note outlined the specifics of the threat, and also asked students and faculty to notify security if anything suspicious was observed.

“We were being abundantly cautious,” said David Magida, Norwich’s chief administrative officer. “We called the state police around 7:40 a.m. about the best strategy for us. They were very helpful. The state police officer said that he would like us to sweep it again, which we did, and if we found any type of corroborating evidence, they would come down with the bomb team.”

At that time a RAVE notification (Norwich’s web based emergency notification system) was put out to all faculty and students, notifying them of the threat. Students were further encouraged to go onto their accounts and update contact information.

Magida also activated the Norwich Incident Command Team, which comprises multiple school officials and is responsible for making decisions during serious incidents. After a second sweep, the building was deemed secure.

“We were a little more careful this time, looking in more areas, so it took a little longer,” explained Magida. “We didn’t find anything, so we all gathered here (the Hayden Building). We discussed everything and we called the state police again for guidance. They said ‘good to go,’ so we opened (the U Building).”

The Northfield police are continuing to look into to the matter, though no additional information has been made available to the public.

Abraham said according to his recollection, there may have been one previous bomb threat but he could not recall when it was. He said there are no security cameras in the U-Building that could have recorded the person who posted the threat.

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