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Anthrax scare at University of Missouri-Rolla shuts down campus

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Feb. 28, 2007 

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ROLLA, Mo. – A distraught graduate student claiming to have a bomb and anthrax sparked a scare early Tuesday that shut down the University of Missouri-Rolla for several hours, officials said.

Nearly two dozen people, including a faculty member and eight other students, were quarantined after a white, powdery substance was found.

School officials said “possible bomb materials” were also found when the man was taken into custody. Officials described him as a graduate student who was apparently depressed and upset about his grades.

The incident started around 2:30 a.m. in a civil engineering building on campus.

Acting Police Chief Mark Kearse said that when police arrived, the student held up a bag and said: “This is a bomb.” He was armed with a knife and also claimed to have anthrax, Kearse said.

Police used a stun gun to subdue him. They also found a four-page note in which the student threatened to destroy the building, Kearse said.

“If we had to make an assessment right now, our assessment is that this is going to be a bogus or phony situation,” said Acting Police Chief Mark Kearse.

Still, a Fort Leonard Wood Explosive Operations Division team was investigating the possibility that a bomb could be in the building, and members of the Missouri National Guard were called to campus. A National Guard team took samples to determine if the substance was hazardous, said Lt. Col. David Boyle of the 7th Civil Support Team.

Officials said no one who had been exposed to the substance had shown any symptoms.

“If it was anthrax they would have been displaying some symptoms,” said Ray Massey, ambulance director at Phelps County Regional Medical Center.

The identity and nationality of the student were not released, though school spokesman Lance Feyh said he was an international student. The man was decontaminated and taken to a hospital before being taken to a holding facility at the Rolla Police Department, Kearse said.

Mayor William Jenks and Kearse said the student had been distraught over his grades, which may have led to the incident. Jenks said the student “had problems and was depressed.”

The 5,850-student technological research and engineering school campus in south-central Missouri was shut down during the incident and classes were canceled for the day while officers investigated.

“We have no hard evidence that there’s anything wrong in the building but we simply can’t take a chance,” Jenks said. “We’re taking a very cautious approach.”

 

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