MARQUETTE - Campus officials at Northern Michigan University said today a threat the campus received Wednesday is now part of a larger federal investigation of similar messages directed at other schools across the country.
The campus of roughly 9,000 students was shut down for the day after an out-of-state tipster called the university and alerted officials of an anonymous message posted on a blog site. Police again today declined to detail the content of the threat, or the site where it appeared, as investigations at other schools remained active this morning.
"Several other universities have received similar complaints or threats and the FBI has taken the lead on that," said Mike Bath, NMU director of public safety.
Northern Michigan University president Les Wong, left, and Public Safety Director Mike Bath talk with reporters at a press conference today on campus. (Journal Photo by John Pepin)
Bath confirmed the threats appear to be originating from a single source reaching broadly.
"There was a lot of similarities in the messages that were received at those universities, similar to the one that we received here," Bath said.
University officials said they learned about the threat before 8 a.m. Wednesday and began to shut down the campus, using various messaging systems.
"Yesterday we had a threat to the university that we deemed credible enough to initiate our emergency protocols and we evacuated campus," Bath said.
Later in the day, police said a possible suspect had been developed and questioned.
"Throughout our investigation it was determined we did have a person of interest. That person is no longer being looked at any longer and that is being cleared through the FBI," Bath said.
Campus police are continuing to assist the FBI, which is now the lead agency on the investigation. Late in the day Wednesday, police learned of the threats to other schools and the situation shifted gears.
NMU President Les Wong said much of Wednesday evening was spent assessing whether the school would open today and whether there was enough information available to give university officials confidence enough to think that was the right decision.
"We would not have opened up today had there been any doubt about the safety of the campus, our students our staff, faculty, we just would not have done it...it would not have been much of a sacrifice, I think people would have understood, had we closed today," Wong said. "Late last night, we were assured by the teams that were on campus working with us that the threat had dissipated significantly and that our concern was how do we inform students and parents and do our best to get back to our normal routine."
Some students had left campus Wednesday, many stayed in their dorms with the blinds shut, quiet, as university officials instructed. Wong said today, some remained concerned.
"Clearly we still have parents who are still worried about today, students who are still worried about today," Wong said.
Wong was at Starbucks on campus this morning talking with students and others, reassuring them. "Even the president and the public safety staff is going to need some time to get re-adjusted to get back to normal. You just don't turn the switch off and go back to normal right away," Wong said. "We would not in any way consider opening up today without being confident and secure that the situation was safe."
Wong said there would be extra police patrols on campus throughout the day as further reassurance.
"Certainly we learned a lot yesterday," Wong said. "Yesterday was an impressive day of our technology working."
Wong complimented the efficiency and effectiveness of public safety, the coordination with the FBI, with Marquette Police, the state patrol, the sheriffs department, neighbors from Marquette General Hospital and the neighboring schools.
"You know, you never sort of in President's 101 ever get to practice that and although we do practice a lot about different emergency things, when it's real, it's real," Wong said. "The impressiveness yesterday was awesome; the professionalism, the maturity of the students, I thought yesterday was something to...was quite awe-inspiring for me."
Wong said the university received offers to assist from Gov. Rick Snyder, members of Congress and numerous law enforcement agencies.
"I think students and public should be very proud of everybody that pitched in yesterday in what was a very serious threat," Wong said.
Wong said the university will review its procedures in the wake of the event and will continue to refine them. He said no cost estimates had been calculated for the response effort.
"Right now I think the word 'priceless' comes to mind," Wong said. "You do what you have to do and I'm not going to worry about the cost at this point in time."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.