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UF Receives Low Credibility Shooting Threat Via Twitter

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This a screenshot of two tweets sent to @GatorZoneNews Tuesday night.
This is a screenshot of two tweets sent to @GatorZoneNews Tuesday night.” Screenshot via Twitter.

UPDATE, 3:35 p.m.: University of Florida Police Department Captain Jeff Holcomb said the department was first notified of a shooting threat to the university at 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday.

He said there was “no rush” to send out a text alert that evening because the threat was for the following day. Holcomb said he believes UFPD sent the timely warning email at 1 a.m. Wednesday to give authorities enough time to gather information — he could not confirm this was the reason for the decision.

Kenneth Allen, the University of Florida’s Emergency Manager, said UF Alerts are generally sent out by either UFPD or University Relations.

A release sent to UF students and faculty on Wednesday cited two other incidents of threats sent via Twitter. In addition to threats made to American Airlines in April, Holcomb confirmed the University of Louisville is the other university mentioned in the release.

John Drees, a University of Louisville spokesperson, said the university received information about a shooting threat posted on Twitter on Monday from someone saying he was on his way to the campus to “shoot up U of L.”

“[Our threat] said very specifically that ‘I’m on my way to do this,’ so one thing we did have is a reason to react very quickly and to get a notice out very quickly,” Drees said. “You have to take these [threats] very seriously.”

A text alert was immediately sent out to notify students, faculty and staff and ask them to report suspicious activity to the police department. Within a few minutes of the text being sent, Drees said the police department was contacted by the owner of the Twitter account — he told authorities he did not send the threatening text.

The owner of the account cooperated with the police, and they were able to determine the Twitter account was hacked and the text was a hoax. Within 40 minutes of the initial text alert, a second was sent saying there was no longer any danger.

Drees said the university worked with the Louisville Metro Police Department and the FBI to find the source of the tweet and ensure there was no immediate threat to the campus.  The owner of the Twitter account was cleared, and a petition was filed to summon the juvenile responsible for the threatening tweet to court.

“If you don’t have a specific timeframe or target, it makes it pretty hard to respond to these [situations],” Drees said in response to the UF threat. “Universities have to be vigilant and have to be on guard at all times. I applaud any police department that acts quickly.”

According to Twitter’s abusive behavior policy, users are not allowed to “make direct, specific threats of violence against others.” Targeted harassment or abuse is a violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.

If you see that someone has tweeted a violent threat. Twitter encourages users to “contact law enforcement so they can accurately assess the validity of the threat.” Twitter can then work with law enforcement to provide information needed for an investigation.

Users can learn how to report tweets here.

Original Post: The University of Florida received shooting threats Tuesday night from 15 separate social media account holders across the U.S. at the exact same time, according to a University of Florida Police Department release.

At precisely 7 p.m., tweets were sent to @GatorZoneNews saying “Im gonna shoot up the college tomorrow.” UFPD Captian Jeff Holcomb said the police department was notified by University Athletic Association staff after they saw the postings on Twitter.

“We began an investigation reaching out to the FBI to try to determine, you know, the level of threat that this may cause the University of Florida,” Holcomb said. “While it’s very general in nature and the threat level is considered low at this time, a threat of that nature is always taken very seriously, and we’ll continue to investigate.”

Holcomb said similar threats have been made to another university and American Airlines.

UF Alert sent out a timely warning email at 1 a.m. Wednesday, and an additional release from University Police Chief Linda Stump was sent at 9:22 a.m. Since the social media threats are believed to be hoaxes, Stump stated that classes would not be canceled but patrols and police visibility on campus have been increased.

“Unfortunately, hoaxes are common so reacting in such a vast and negatively impactful way to threats that are determined by law enforcement to be a low risk is not a viable option,” Stump stated.

Until a credible threat is confirmed, Holcomb said the university will continue to operate normally. Holcomb said the reason UFPD didn’t send out a text to alert students is because there was no “imminent threat of danger.”

“It would be pretty hard to imagine that 15 separate individuals from all over the U.S. had the same thought process at the same very moment,” Holcomb said.

 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the original post stated, “Holcomb said similar threats have been made to another university and American Airlines within the last few days.Threats made to the University of Louisville were made on Monday, but American Airlines received a threat in April.

About Kaitlyn Pearson

Kaitlyn is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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