COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A white college student suspected of posting online threats to shoot black students and faculty at the University of Missouri was charged Wednesday with making a terrorist threat, adding to the racial tension at the heart of the protests that led two top administrators to resign earlier this week.
Hunter M. Park, a 19-year-old sophomore studying computer science at a sister campus in Rolla, was arrested shortly before 2 a.m. at a residence hall, authorities said. The school said no weapons were found. Boone County prosecutors announced the criminal charge later Wednesday and recommended that he be held without bond.
Park, who is enrolled at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, was jailed in Columbia, about 75 miles to the northwest.
The author of the posts, which showed up Tuesday on the anonymous location-based messaging app YikYak and other social media, threatened to “shoot every black person I see.” The posts followed the resignations on Monday of the University of Missouri system president and the chancellor of its flagship campus in Columbia.
Another threat said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.” The message seemed to echo one that appeared on the website 4chan — a forum where racist and misogynistic comments are common — ahead of the deadly campus shooting at an Oregon community college last month.
Because the county courts were closed for Veterans Day, Park was not expected to appear before a judge until at least Thursday. The prosecutor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email asking whether Park had an attorney, and no information about the case is listed online. Prosecutors also didn’t immediately release the probable cause statement, which would include more details about the case.
A message left by The Associated Press on Park’s mother’s cellphone was not returned. An AP reporter got no answer when he knocked on the door of the family’s home in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis.
Authorities were also investigating two other threats on YikYak involving other campuses in Missouri. One was leveled at the Rolla campus by someone saying, “I’m gonna shoot up this school.” In the other case, a student at Northwest State University in Maryville was arrested Wednesday morning for allegedly posting, “I’m gonna shoot any black people tomorrow, so be ready.” Northwest Missouri State spokesman Mark Hornickel told several media outlets that authorities hadn’t linked the incident to threats at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus.
When the first threat emerged, the Columbia school’s online emergency information center tweeted, “There is no immediate threat to campus,” and asked students not to spread rumors.
Park has excelled academically in science. As a senior at Wentzville’s Holt High School in early 2014, he was a member of the school district’s robotics team when he won the honors division for a project titled “A Novel Method for Determination of Camera Pose Estimation Based on Angle Constraints.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the project advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.
A spokeswoman for the Rolla school, Mary Helen Stoltz, said she did not know whether the university planned to take any action against Park over his arrest.
On Wednesday, student foot traffic in Columbia was light as freshman Megan Grazman was on her way to class. Although she said she felt safe, “There’s nobody out. It’s a ghost town. It’s kind of eerie.”
Yixiang Gao, a Chinese student from Shanghai, said he also felt safe, but he described the campus climate as “very heavy.” He said his black roommate was not going to class.
Also Wednesday, the university said an employee who was among those who clashed with a student photographer during campus protests was placed on administrative leave while her actions are investigated.
Janna Basler is the school’s director of Greek life. The videotaped clash helped fan a debate about the free press. Basler did not return a message seeking comment.
A communication professor also drew criticism for trying to stop a photographer from taking pictures. Melissa Click apologized Tuesday.
Months of protests culminated in a tumultuous week on the Columbia campus.
Back in September, the student government president reported that people shouted racial slurs at him from a passing pickup truck, galvanizing the protest movement. Last week, a graduate student went on a hunger strike to demand the resignation of university system President Tim Wolfe over his handling of racial complaints.
Then more than 30 members of the Missouri football team refused to practice or play in support of the hunger striker. Those developments came to a head Monday with the resignation of Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, the top administrator of the Columbia campus.
Some students, faculty and alumni have said the protests and top leaders’ resignations are the culmination of years of racial tension.
Among other recent events, members of the Legions of Black Collegians, whose founders include a recently retired deputy chancellor, said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student while practicing for a homecoming performance.
The university has promised changes.
Chuck Henson, a black law professor and associate dean, was appointed Tuesday as the university’s first-ever interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.
The university system’s governing body, the Board of Curators, also announced other initiatives, including offering more support for hiring and retaining diverse faculty and staff and performing a full review of all policies related to staff and student conduct.
The board met for three hours Wednesday evening in an emergency closed session, but made no announcement afterward.
Board member John Phillips emerged and said, “Nothing to share tonight. There may be something tomorrow afternoon.”
Phillips was the only board member present on campus; he spoke with the other members by phone.