Authorities investigate bomb threats against historically Black colleges in Central Arkansas

The banner for Philander Smith College in Little Rock is shown in this Oct. 4, 2021, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
The banner for Philander Smith College in Little Rock is shown in this Oct. 4, 2021, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Bomb threats made against historically Black colleges in Little Rock and North Little Rock on Tuesday prompted one campus to temporarily shift to remote instruction.

Philander Smith College in Little Rock issued an announcement about the threat shortly before 7:30 a.m. on Twitter, saying the campus would shift to remote instruction until noon. Officials urged its residential students to stay in their residence halls "until further notice."

Local and federal authorities issued an "all-clear" by noon Tuesday, the college said in a separate Twitter post. Officials lifted the lockdown, and classes and operations resumed, the college said.

Nationally, a series of bomb threats disrupted life at more than a dozen college campuses this week, drawing the attention of the White House and the FBI.

Of particular concern were the threats directed at historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, including at least 17 that temporarily canceled in-person classes and locked down buildings.

President Joe Biden was aware of the threats, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news conference Monday.

"I will say that these are certainly disturbing," Psaki said. "And the White House is in touch with the interagency partners, including federal law enforcement leadership, on this."

The FBI said in a statement that it was "working with our law enforcement partners to address any potential threats."

Authorities have so far not described any of the threats as credible. But school officials at many of the universities took precautions, such as sweeping campus buildings and moving to remote instruction. Some of the HBCUs have received multiple threats this year.

After the first round of recent threats in January, Shorter College President Jerome Green said plans are in the works for federal officials to meet with higher education leaders and review campuses' best procedures to follow when such threats arise and to review existing protocols.

"Already, we have emergency notification system," he said, adding that

Green said Tuesday the bomb threat did not disrupt classes at his college. Students are learning remotely and most employees are working from their homes this week because the school's covid-19 tester tested positive for the coronavirus.

An Arkansas Baptist College official declined comment Tuesday.

A Little Rock police dispatch log showed a bomb threat was reported at Philander Smith about 1:35 a.m.

According to a police report, a caller claiming to be a neo-Nazi told authorities he set C4 plastic explosive charges at Philander Smith College and another college nearby -- which police believed to be Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock -- and a bomb in a white van at Shorter College in North Little Rock, the report stated.

Because the person called the non-emergency line, communications were unable to ping the location of the call, police said.

Security at Philander Smith College told officers they did not locate any suspicious packages. They also didn't find any opened or unsecured doors or windows, the report stated.

The search was called off and no further action was taken, according to the report.

In Colorado, authorities arrested a man who they said threatened the University of California at Los Angeles . In-person classes were canceled Tuesday after a "concerning email and posting" were sent to members of the university community.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The New York Times and The Associated Press.

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