As federal law enforcement officers sifted through the carnage at the San Bernardino health center after a mass shooting, unsubstantiated social media alerts blasted through college campuses across the nation — and South Florida was no exception.
First, there were reports of a student threatening to shoot up a class at the University of Miami. Then, word spread at Florida International University’s main campus that something would happen that would make the nightly newscast.
None of those scenarios played out, but the tweets and Facebook posts and emails they generated showed just how on edge many are around the country and in South Florida just a few weeks after the Paris terror attacks and the day after 14 people were shot to death an hour outside of Los Angeles.
Earlier this week the University of Chicago shuttered its doors when the FBI alerted the school to possible gun violence. And Thursday, even as the wounded recovered in San Bernardino, someone phoned in a bomb threat to the hospital there.
“Every comment we hear, every comment someone may hear can be interpreted in a way that makes someone uncomfortable,” FIU Police Chief Alexander Casas said Thursday.
The University of Miami incident happened about 2 p.m. Thursday after a female student in a class at the School of Communications allegedly threatened to shoot up the class. Campus police showed up and talked to the student, who had no weapons and was not charged with a crime.
Then about an hour later, the media affairs department at FIU acknowledged it received information through a third party that someone might take some action that would cause the university to be on television.
Responding to the rumor, the university put out a statement saying it couldn’t verify if anyone actually made the comment, and that if someone did, officials had no idea who it was.
“There is no verifiable or actionable threat,” the school said in the statement, which included links to websites showing students how to react should there be an active shooter on campus.
The threat was even picked up by the FIU Muslim Student Association, which on its Facebook page advised fellow students “to get off campus as quickly as possible.” FIU police and the school’s media relations department said that they weren’t aware of any threat toward the Muslim students.
As word snowballed through the FIU campus of a potential threat, Casas felt he had to address the issue. He said someone called the police department claiming to have heard someone else make a statement that might have been threatening.
“There is nothing to indicate any threat of violence,” the chief said. “We absolutely understand the people’s concern.”