University of Florida classes were brought to a screeching halt when students in Turlington Hall were evacuated Thursday amid fire alarms and police sirens and a bomb squad caused confusion and panic.
At 11:26 a.m., the University of Florida Police Department was alerted of the discovery of a suspicious package on the first floor of Turlington Hall. Law enforcement officials on the scene stated there was an empty metal tube in the package. Upon further inspection, UFPD and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad identified the device as “research material.”
UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldán said the package is related to a UF department, but she declined to specify which.
“I had two tutoring appointments at Turlington Hall, and while I was inside, all of a sudden the alarm went off,” UF sophomore Tesla Radulovic said. “The officers told us to walk onto the other side of the street, and here we’ve been continuing the tutoring session on pen and paper. The fact that they’re taking it this seriously kinda concerns me.”
Across from Turlington, at the Plaza of the Americas, Krishna Lunch was set up facing Union Road. From there, volunteer Gopi Lila saw the situation unfold.
“I heard from students there was a bomb threat,” Lila said. “We’ve been just watching the whole time. Just more and more cops started showing up. Some people took it seriously, some people didn’t.”
As police officers blocked off the area around Turlington, crowds of people watched from a distance wondering what exactly was going on. Sandra James, office manager of Jewish studies at UF, was one of those in the crowd.
“We were just starting to eat our lunch, and then the alarm went off,” she said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to go. We’ve got to leave right now.’”
After evacuating, James waited more than two hours for her red Cadillac to be released, as it was parked at Turlington.
“Will you release my car?” she asked the law enforcement officer guarding the parking lot. “I have Type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and I need to take my medications. My feet are so swollen they look like Cabbage Patch Kids.”
Amid the chaos, an anti-Semitic group named “Ye is Right” was set up in the middle of Plaza of the Americas, hosting interviews just a few feet away from UF Hillel, the center for Jewish student life in Gainesville.
Before the group’s arrival to campus, UF Hillel released a statement that read,“We believe the white supremacist group that was at FAU, FSU, and Alabama is coming to UF today,” UF Hillel shared before Ye is Right came to campus. “These individuals are attention seeking and do not have a history of violence during their campus visits so there is no current physical threat.”
As news of the evacuation and police investigation spread, chatter on social media and among students and faculty watching the event unfold included speculation of possible ties to Ye is Right.
“(Ye is Right) was the first thing I thought of,” said Kelli Granade, the office manager for the department of linguistics, as two other women with her, Jolee Gibbs, administrative specialist for the English Language Institute, and Paula Golombek, a clinical professor of linguistics, agreed.
“It could certainly be a coincidence, but the fact that stuff has been happening with that group, and we were expecting them here today, and I’m sure that’s why everybody is really on top of this,” Granade said.
Roldán said the package was not related to any other incidents on campus.
As of 3:03 p.m., the area was cleared and normal campus operations resumed.
Listen below as Office manager of Jewish studies Sandra James, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldán, UF sophomore Tesla Radulovic, office manager for the department of linguistics Kelli Granade, administrative specialist for the English Language Institute Jolee Gibbs, and a clinical professor of linguistics Paula Golombek discuss their experiences at Turlington Plaza on Thursday afternoon.
WUFT reporter and photojournalist Augustus Hoff captured photos of the scene early Thursday afternoon: