Edward Waters University warned students via social media early Tuesday morning that it had received “an anonymous bomb and threat of violence to the EWU campus this morning.”
EWU was one of at least 13 HBCUs that received bomb threats Tuesday. This came on the heels of at least a half-dozen historically Black universities in five states and the District of Columbia that received bomb threats Monday, with many of them locking down their campuses for a time.
EWU’s warning said that effective immediately all in person activities, classes and university operations, including meetings and athletic practices are canceled until further notice.
According to a news release shortly before 4 p.m., the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office conducted four sweeps of the campus between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m. The university provided meals to students who usually live on campus and at the Microtel Hotel. The campus reopened and dinner would be available from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the dining hall.
Students like Lavar Betts want to know why anyone would target HBCUs.
“It’s kind of weird with this being Black history month, the first day of Black history month and we are getting this type of threat. It’s kind of weird,” Betts said. “I want to know like why? Especially with it being other HBCUs around the way and not just here in Florida. Why are HBCUs being targeted? Why people want to joke around about a bomb threat but that’s not a joke.”
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis agreed, calling the threats “absolutely horrifying.”
Patronis said that his office has been in contact with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to offer the support of the state’s dedicated bomb squad to help with threats made at Edward Waters University and Bethune Cookman University and any other HBCUs across our state.
“My investigators also stand ready to assist with investigations to discover who made these dangerous threats and hold them accountable. Together, we will track these criminals down and they will pay for their hateful actions,” Patronis said in a news release. “Always remember that if you see something, say something and report any suspicious activity to local authorities immediately.”
EWU president Zachary Faison Jr. spoke during a meeting of religious leaders Tuesday afternoon.
“We are not intimidated. We are not scared that Edward Waters University and HBCUs like Edward Waters have a long and prodigious history of seeing things through, despite challenges,” Faison Jr. said.
Hours after the threat, Faison Jr. revealed what it was police were investigating on the campus, explaining the false report of what was called in to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“That there were multiple explosive devices that had been placed throughout our campus, and beyond that, the plan was to then come onto the campus and then shoot any survivors,” he said.
Patricia Johnson is a senior at the university.
“I was afraid it was true, and I was afraid that something could have possibly happened today,” Johnson said. “It’s real alarming. You never think it could be your institution and low and behold it is.”
EWU has been a pillar in the community since 1886. When it was founded, the university educated African Americans in a then-segregated south. In modern times it has graduated such notable figures as Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, politician Betty Holzendorf and civil rights activist A Phillip Randolph.
The FBI Jacksonville branch said in a statement:
Yes, representatives of FBI Jacksonville are assisting at Edward Waters, and we are aware of threats received by other Historically Black Colleges and Universities in our territory. The FBI takes all potential threats seriously and we are working with our law enforcement partners to determine their credibility. As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement immediately.
In an unrelated incident on Tuesday, the UNF Police Department said a suspect had been identified and arrested after a social media threat was made against that campus.
HBCU threats Monday
Both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the threats to HBCU campuses across the U.S. on Monday, the agencies said in separate statements.
Among the prestigious HBCUs threatened included Howard University, Mississippi State Valley University, Spelman College and Jackson State University.
In Georgia, Albany State University warned students and faculty on social media that “a bomb threat has been issued to Albany State University's academic buildings."
School officials at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told students to stay in their dormitories Monday morning. After a search for any suspicious devices, the university gave an all-clear later in the day. Normal campus operations were expected to resume Tuesday, school officials said.
At Bowie State University in Maryland, school officials told everyone on campus to shelter in place until more information was available. Explosives-detecting dogs and bomb technicians were helping campus police to sweep buildings, the state fire marshal's office said in a statement. The campus reopened later Monday after a search by local, state and federal law officers found no explosive devices, school officials said.
Howard University was also the subject of a bomb threat before dawn Monday, but later gave an all-clear to students and staff, radio station WTOP reported.
In Florida, Daytona Beach police said in a tweet that they gave the all-clear at the Bethune-Cookman campus after the school received a bomb threat. But classes were canceled and police said they were going to stay on campus for the rest of the day.
At Delaware State University, a bomb threat to that campus was made early Monday morning, and police completed a search of the campus by early afternoon and no explosives were found, university spokesperson Carlos Holmes said in an email.
“We are safe, for which I am incredibly thankful, but the attempt to disrupt targeted our community because of who we serve and the mission we fulfill," Delaware State President Tony Allen said in a letter to the campus community. “The impetus for such a threat cannot be ascribed to anything other than the most primitive form of racism, a form which is neither new nor unique in this country."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the threats “are certainly disturbing and the White House is in touch with the interagency partners, including federal law enforcement leadership on this.”
“We’re relieved to hear that Howard and Bethune-Cookman universities have been given the all-clear and will continue to monitor these reports," Psaki said, adding that President Joe Biden is aware of the threats.
Monday's bomb scares came one day before the start of Black History Month and less than a month after a series of bomb threats were made to multiple historically Black universities on Jan. 4.
“We are deeply disturbed by a second round of bomb threats at HBCU campuses within a month," leaders of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus said in a statement Monday.
“Learning is one of the most noble and most human pursuits, and schools are sacred places that should always be free from terror," it said. “Solving these crimes and bringing those responsible to justice should be a top priority for federal law enforcement."
The statement was issued by Democratic U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill of Arkansas, who are co-chairs of the caucus.
Associated Press writer Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.