WKU, WKUPD break down response to potential explosive threats

Students+and+faculty+wait+outside+while+the+WKU+Police+Department+and+Bowling+Green+Fire+Department+respond+to+a+potential+explosive+device+being+found+at+Cherry+Hall+on+WKU+Campus+in+Bowling+Green%2C+Ky.+on+Wednesday%2C+Sept.+14.+The+item+was+found+not+be+an+explosive+or+a+threat+to+campus.

Tucker Covey / College Heights Herald

Students and faculty wait outside while the WKU Police Department and Bowling Green Fire Department respond to a potential explosive device being found at Cherry Hall on WKU Campus in Bowling Green, Ky. on Wednesday, Sept. 14. The item was found not be an explosive or a threat to campus.

Michael Crimmins, Administration reporter

Editor’s note: Per policy, the Herald ordinarily refrains from identifying students in criminal matters. Due to the extraordinary nature of this case, the Herald has chosen to name the student involved.

Last Wednesday, WKU dealt with a pair of situations involving potential explosives.

A potential explosive device – later found to not be explosive at all, rather a piece of construction material – was found near Henry Hardin Cherry Hall, resulting in the suspension of classes for several hours and the evacuation of all buildings at the top of the Hill.

While the university was delivering its “all clear” message for Cherry Hall, WKU Police notified the public of an anonymous bomb threat made via the social media app Yik Yak towards Parking Structure 2. The threat was later found to be illegitimate.

Melissa Bailey, WKUPD’s public information officer, and Jace Lux, university spokesperson, provided the Herald with a comprehensive view of what took place this past Wednesday, illustrating what actions the university takes during these kinds of high-stress situations.

The potential explosive device up near Cherry Hall was first found by Ben Johnson, planning and design director, in the construction site where Garrett Conference Center once stood, according to the call response run sheet provided by WKUPD.

Chief Mitch Walker got a call from Johnson at 10 a.m. about a “possible stick of dynamite” that had been found at the site.

Bailey said roughly six officers on patrol responded to the call. Once officers arrived on scene, they found a “piece of PVC pipe sticking out of the ground with wires running out of it” with a “white material inside,” according to the run sheet.

“From the get-go, law enforcement was relatively convinced that it was not an explosive device, but was something that was related to the construction,” Lux said. “But out of an abundance of caution, they made the decision to send out that alert and to caution people to avoid that area.”

Bailey said she went down to WKUPD’s dispatch center to send out the first RAVE text alert, warning people about the area. She said she was never personally on the scene as she was helping with the many calls that inundated the center after the notice was sent.

WKUPD then called the Bowling Green Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI.

According to the police sheet, BGFD arrived at 10:22 a.m. and the ATF arrived at 10:50 a.m. Bailey said the FBI was not on scene, but was on the phone.

Walker, via phone communications with Captain Ryan Petty, made the decision to evacuate Cherry Hall at 10:52 a.m. 

“As far as closing class, that’s not a police decision, that’s with the university,” Bailey said. “We don’t make those kinds of decisions.”

At 11:01 a.m., Lux sent a university-wide email stating that classes were suspended “until further notice” and to Stay clear of the top of the hill.” Lux said Provost Bud Fischer was the person who made the decision to suspend classes.

“Ultimately he was the one who said ‘let’s suspend classes for the time being,’” Lux said. “The decision was made… so we wouldn’t have people coming to campus and venturing up there when they didn’t need to, the decision was made not to cancel classes for the day but to suspend them.”

Lux said President Timothy Caboni was not on campus as he was traveling to Owensboro to speak at the Rotary Club, but he was receiving updates via cell phone calls.

Both Lux and Bailey noted that traffic on Avenue of Champions was “bumper to bumper” with people leaving campus after the first alert was sent out.

“People were coming out of PS2 after the first RAVE alert and so University [Boulevard] was backed up from Alumni [Avenue] all the way to Creason Street,” Bailey said. “It was just at a stand still. I don’t know why that happened, we didn’t tell people to leave campus…[the text messages] just said stay away from that area.”

Bailey said Cherry Hall was cleared at 12:19 p.m. after the fire department determined it was not an explosive device.

“On the police side, we do not have a device to detect if it was actually an explosive device or not, the fire department has a device like that,” Bailey said. “Of course that takes some time to bring in from their station and as soon as they were able to bring that in, and met with ATF, they did their thing…and it was determined to not be an explosive device at all.”

Bailey said the possible explosive was an industrial fuse that had been cut in half during construction. In fact, she said, it “couldn’t have exploded at all.”

I think it went well, no one was injured, no one was hurt, thankfully both instances turned out to be nothing. I think it demonstrates our campus police officers are committed to keeping people safe.”

— Jace Lux

At 11:44 a.m., shortly before the “all clear” went out for Cherry Hall, WKUPD was emailed by a professor that another bomb threat had been made towards Parking Structure 2 via the social media app YikYak. 

“[…] Obviously that threat was investigated and taken seriously,” Lux said.

According to the police citation obtained by the Herald, the YikYak stated: “next bomb in ps2. y’all prepare yourselves.” 

The police department then contacted YikYak to obtain the user’s information.

“YikYak is anonymous unless you threaten somebody or threaten an institution,” Lux said. “Then YikYak will provide the information of the registered user to law enforcement, and they do it pretty quickly.”

Police searched the structure and the threat was deemed unfounded.

The individual associated with the account was identified as WKU student Hailee Reed. According to Bailey, Reed called dispatch around 12:20 p.m. and admitted to writing the post.

Police officers went to Reed’s residence and interviewed her. According to the citation, Reed said she knew she had made a terrible mistake and meant the post “as a joke” and that she “never meant to cause this much trouble.” She was read her Miranda Rights, which she waived, according to the citation.

“Reed was searched, handcuffed, double-locked, and transported to the Warren County Detention Center,” the citation states.

She was charged with terroristic threatening-1st degree. According to Bailey, the case is still open.

Overall, Lux and Bailey both said they thought the ordeal was handled well as no one was hurt.

“It was a chaotic few hours, but looking at the timeline it was a pretty condensed timeline,” Lux said. “I think it went well, no one was injured, no one was hurt, thankfully both instances turned out to be nothing. I think it demonstrates our campus police officers are committed to keeping people safe.”

Administration reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]