Detectives still working to identify suspect
LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette and public safety officials spent Thursday reviewing their response to a bomb threat — what went right and what didn’t — as detectives worked to try to identify who called in the threat that emptied the university’s 1,500-acre campus.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The university along with local, state and federal police agencies conducted an orderly evacuation and bomb search. And nobody got hurt.
WHAT’S UNKNOWN: The identity of the culprit who phoned in the threat on Wednesday.
WHAT DIDN’T GO RIGHT: UL-Lafayette’s emergency notification system that sent out text messages alerting students and faculty did not reach everyone it should have reached.
“We are absolutely looking into that,” said Joey Pons, associate director of Public Safety and Risk Management at UL-Lafayette.
Although the mass texts did not reach everyone, Pons said, UL-Lafayette got the message out in other ways, such as Facebook, emails and local media.
Another glitch in the system revealed Wednesday was getting more control over rumors that police worked hard to squelch, such as a bomb being found at a hotel near the Cajundome and another bomb found in a drainage ditch, State Police Master Trooper Brooks David said.
Both were not true, but police media liaisons had to chase the rumors down and snuff them out.
David said having several police agencies and UL-Lafayette officials talking to multiple media outlets may have contributed to the spreading of rumors. He said police and the university are discussing designating one spokesperson among them who would speak for all.
About 5,500 summer semester students and faculty members along with hundreds of incoming freshmen undergoing orientation were told to leave the campus or stay away Wednesday morning as police and bomb-sniffing dogs searched for explosives.
The effort, which involved an intense response by multiple police agencies, also closed roads on or near the university and disrupted traffic in Lafayette.
The hourslong search came after a man called Lafayette television station KATC at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday saying he’d placed a bomb in a trash can at Girard Park next to the university. The man also said there could be other bombs somewhere on the campus, but he didn’t say where. It left police with a vast search area.
Police quickly found a “suspicious device” in Girard Park, which turned out to be fake but which they say was dressed up to look like a bomb.
After police found the package in the park trash can a little after 7 a.m., university officials deployed the emergency notification system.
The revelation that the package found in the trash was a hoax came as police were conducting a search for bombs. David said police never considered calling off the search when they learned the bomb wasn’t real.
“Even though the first one was found to be a hoax, it was possible that there were more that were not a hoax,” he said.
Pons and David said the university’s evacuation plan was designed to handle UL-Lafayette’s population during the spring or fall semester, when the school is filled with 17,000 undergraduate students, 2,000 graduate students, and faculty and other employees numbering up to 2,000.
The effort to find the person who called in the threat, meanwhile, continued Thursday. Investigators on the case include those from UL-Lafayette, Lafayette Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, State Police, and federal agencies such as the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.