Graffiti Writer Threatens Violence

Originally published in print and online at City on a Hill Press January 11, 2011

Message discovered in campus bathroom sparks investigation

Graffiti threatening violence, found in a campus bathroom, has prompted an investigation by the UC Santa Cruz administration and police. The graffiti was discovered in early December, before students left for winter break.

Administrators issued an email advisory to the campus community Jan. 11 alerting students and faculty of the discovery of the graffiti, and asking them to be alert for suspicious behavior. Recipients were warned that the message threatened violence on Jan. 18. Exact details were not included.

UCSC director of public information Jim Burns said the administration has no plans to release further details.

Sam*, a UCSC student who lives on campus, was informed about the graffiti by a UCSC staff member on Jan. 6. Though he was asked not to share the details of the threat, Sam has since told “quite a few people,” he said.

Burns confirmed that “members of the campus’ senior leadership team were among the people informed,” before the e-mail advisory was sent out.

In an interview conducted prior to the release of the official alert, Sam said that though he understands the university’s position, he was concerned for students’ safety. He decided to alert his peers of the threat as they had not yet been informed by the university.

“I don’t want to interfere with any investigation, but this is too important,” Sam said. “Of course, it is in the administration’s best interest [not to tell], but I don’t think the university’s best interest and the students’ best interest align in this case. I think the best thing is to tell people.”

He said a university staff member informed him about the threat and included details not disclosed in the advisory e-mail. Sam said, in the message, discovered in a men’s bathroom on the first floor of the Social Sciences 2 building, the individual threatened to harm a finite number of students before hurting themselves.

Burns and executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway declined to comment on specific details of the message beyond what was included in the advisory e-mail.

The graffiti message was removed shortly after its discovery. Jim Durning, supervisor of the UCSC Paint/Sign Shop, said that after threatening graffiti is reported, protocol requires police officers take a picture of the message and members of Durning’s staff are called in to remove it. Durning confirmed that a member of his staff did paint over the message after they were called to do so.

When it was discovered, certain aspects of the message were detailed enough to warrant the administration’s concern, Galloway said.

“The information we had, had enough specificity in it that we were concerned and thought we should take it seriously,” Galloway said. “That doesn’t mean that it is a legitimate threat — it could be a number of things. But we felt we had to treat it as if it was a serious concern. So we’ve been trying to … reach out to find out who this individual will be and if we can offer some help, offer some intervention.”

UCSC interim police chief Ava Snyder said that an investigation has been ongoing since the graffiti was discovered by a student Dec. 2. Though the FBI was contacted for consultation, it is not investigating the incident.

While the UCSC Police Department’s plans for next Tuesday cannot be revealed, Snyder said that supporting law enforcement agencies have been notified in case assistance is needed.

As of press time, the administration has no plans to close campus on Jan. 18, said Jim Burns, UCSC’s director of public information.

“We are planning for campus to be open,” he said.

Though the graffiti was discovered in early December, the administration did not send out an advisory until Jan. 11. Galloway said that in withholding the information, the administration hoped to avoid causing unwarranted panic.

“Obviously, the ideal for us would have been to have found the person already and not have to worry about exposing people to the stress of hearing this on our campus,” she said. “But we haven’t been able to do that, so we felt we really had an obligation to the campus community to let them know … that something could happen. And they should be prepared.”

Published online at cityonahillpress.com

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