UL-Lafayette reopens campus after bomb scare

An early morning bomb threat closed the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for most of the day Wednesday, as police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs swept the campus in a search that found one package made to look like a bomb.

The package, found in a trash can in Girard Park just off campus, did not contain explosive materials, State Police Master Trooper Brooks David said.

“It was made to look like an explosive device, the way it was built and the way it was packaged,” David said.

Reports of a second package possibly being found on the grounds of UL-Lafayette were unfounded, David said.

The entire campus was evacuated, and the disruptions rippled out to affect much of Lafayette. Some of the city’s main roads near UL-Lafayette, which sits in the center of the city, were closed. The thoroughfares closed included sections of Johnston Street, St. Mary Boulevard, South College Road, West Pinhook Road, University Avenue and roads going through Lafayette’s Oil Center near Girard Park.

The bomb threat was called into Lafayette television station KATC at around 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and UL-Lafayette officials sent an alert to students and faculty a little after 7 a.m. The emergency alert told faculty and commuter students to stay away from the university and asked students in on-campus dorms to stay inside. The dorms later Wednesday were evacuated. Some of the dorm students were moved to Lafayette City Hall while the search continued.

“I found out at the Cajun Field bus stop,” said Kim Kennedy, a junior majoring in visual arts. “It was very wise of them to evacuate the whole campus, considering they might have had several threats.”

UL-Lafayette spokesman Chris Welty said 5,500 students are registered for classes in the current summer session.

Welty said 400 pre-college students were also there, attending an on-campus orientation. Some were staying in dorms and were moved to an off-campus hall while police searched for explosives. Other high school students were staying in dorms while attending summer programs.

“It went well. We didn’t have anybody screaming or anything,” said Christian Chenet, a junior at Jeanerette Senior High School who attends Upward Bound, a college preparatory program.

“We were very calm about it,” Chenet said. “We just sat there and waited for updates on whether it was safe to come back to campus.”

Ryan Guidry, a 20-year-old UL-Lafayette nursing student helping with the Outward Bound program, said university officials and police handled the threat well, but it “was very hectic ... It was very rough.”

David said nine bomb-search teams combed the UL-Lafayette campus, from the main campus off Johnston Street to the complex along and near Cajundome Boulevard.

Hazardous materials teams from State Police and the Lafayette police and fire departments examined and disposed of the fake bomb found in Girard Park, David said.

The search turned up no explosives.

By 3:30 p.m., the UL-Lafayette campus and the roads leading to and through the campus were reopened, Lafayette Police Department spokesman Sgt. Kyle Soriez said.

All classes and other on-campus activities were scheduled to resume Thursday, Welty said.

Charles Spencer, an FBI agent who is part of a terrorism task force, said federal law enforcement agencies, too, are looking into the phoned-in threat. He said anyone with information can call (337) 232-TIPS or (800) CALLFBI.

As bomb squad personnel were dealing with the package found in a trash can at Girard Park on Wednesday morning, a bomb-sniffing dog with about eight police trailing it was seen running into a parking garage at the corner of Taft Street and East St. Mary Boulevard.

Some residences and offices in the area, including the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, were emptied while the search continued. A postal worker with undelivered mail was turned back by police, as was a backpack-wearing student headed to class before noon who apparently didn’t hear the news.

Welty said UL-Lafayette sent out its emergency alert at a few minutes after 7 a.m., but there were reports of some faculty and students not receiving the information. Welty said he would check the validity of those reports.

He said the university communicates through a variety of platforms: Facebook, text alerts, emails and the school’s website.

Advocate correspondent Seth Dickerson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was modified on Thursday, July 17, to correct the time that KATC-TV 3 received the call. It was made at 5:30 a.m., not 5 a.m. The Advocate regrets the error.