At 4:25 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2021 the University of Utah Police Department responded to a bomb threat targeting the U’s Black Cultural Center, called in from a crisis center in California.
The building was completely vacant at the time and according to the police department, after surveying the building with both officers and two explosive detection canines, it was determined there was no bomb on site.
The same morning, on the second day of Spring 2022 classes, U students were notified of the bomb threat via a statement from both Housing and Residential Education and UUPD.
While no bomb was found, Chief of UUPD Jason Hinojosa said there was still a criminal act of phoning in the threat, causing fear on campus and interrupting normal processes of the University.
“The vast, vast majority of [bomb threats] are fraudulent, they’re hoaxes,” Hinojosa said. “That doesn’t mean we treat them any differently or we don’t take them seriously.”
Hinojosa said while this is not a frequent issue on the U’s campus, it is something that he has had to deal with several times in his career, and bomb threats are a common issue in the state.
According to Hinojosa, what distinguishes this attack is that it was distinctly directed at the BCC.
“This threat is classified as a hate crime,” he said. “So given the nature of the work done in that building … and that it was specifically targeted by this person out of all the buildings on campus, this was clearly a hate crime.”
The UUPD statement said “there was no immediate threat to life” so a timely warning through the campus alert system was deemed unnecessary by the police chief.
“This happened all very quickly and given that there was no threat to campus and we had unfounded the actual explosive threat very quickly, there was no need for a timely warning to go out,” Hinojosa said. “What was going out was notification after the fact about what had happened and what the university is doing to take steps.”
A statement from the Racist & Bias Incident Response Team said that last Tuesday, eight historically Black colleges were targeted with bomb threats.
The RBIRT advises members of the U community to seek support.
“Although there were no explosive devices found, bomb threats themselves can cause trauma, make folx fear for their safety, and recall a history of racist bombings in this country,” the statement read.
According to Jorge Jimenez, a U political science student, the current U administration is a failure.
“I don’t feel safe as a brown student at the U,” Jimenez said.
Hinojosa also said while the investigation is occurring, they want to keep “as much information close to the vest as possible,” to not jeopardize the investigation.
“What [students] won’t know going forward are the details of the investigation until we actually locate a suspect,” he said. “If too much information is out, it can key in people on what we’re doing and where we’re at or we can also have people who want to try to come in and claim responsibility for it.”
Although they are in the beginning stages of an investigation, Hinojosa said students should be aware the UUPD is taking the situation very seriously.
“We have a crew of very experienced and veteran detectives, basically turning over every leaf,” he said.
Hinojosa said the university and police department can do more in communicating what to do in a situation like this. For example, if a person receives a phone call with a threat, there are more steps to take than alerting the police and evacuating the building.
“There’s a lot of questions to ask and to try to keep the person on the line to get that information because that’s always going to benefit the investigation and locating and identifying the person who did this,” Hinojosa said. “I think we probably should … put out some more messaging on what to do.”
According to a video response from U President Taylor Randall, he hopes the U community can come together to decide how to make a change.
“I think what’s frustrating here is this is the third and fourth such statement that we have had to make,” Randall said. “And it’s difficult to find the cowards that perpetrate these acts.”
Hinojosa encourages any students or faculty who might have information on the case to call UUPD.
According to RBIRT, the individual who called the threat does not seem to be a member of the U community. UUPD is currently investigating the issue and has reported it to the FBI for further investigation.
The University Counseling Center stated the event was anti-Black violence and has crisis counselors available at 801-581-6826.