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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Here’s everything we know about the bomb threats that shook Tufts during finals week

Firefighters are pictured walking through Dowling Garage on Dec. 14.

Evacuations, building sweeps and near-daily security alerts rattled a campus just beginning its finals period after Tufts’ diversity office received a bomb threat on Dec. 14. The threat, sent via email, quickly became the first of at least seven messages directed to Tufts in the week that followed. 

Shortly after the university received the seventh threat on Thursday morning, an individual claiming to be the perpetrator sent another email. This time, the message said the threats to Tufts and the greater Boston community would stop.

“We are done with the bomb threats for now,” the email read. The Daily was unable to verify that this sender was the source of previous threats. 

Amid broader concerns for how Tufts will operate classes next semester if the threats resume, students and faculty were forced to adapt their study hours, exam formats and travel plans in an unexpected twist to what became a tumultuous finals period. Here’s what we know about the threats that occurred from Dec. 14 to Dec. 22.

Which campus locations have been named in bomb threats?
Ty Blitstein / The Tufts Daily

The first threat, sent to Tufts’ Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, criticized Tufts for what it deemed “anti white racism,” citing a faculty dialogue series called “Unpacking Whiteness.” The series has been housed under the diversity office since 2018, and it garnered global attention in October after the Daily Mail and the New York Post publicized the program’s practice of directing participants into different groups based on their race. 

The Daily published an overview and history of the “Unpacking Whiteness” and “Radical Healing” dialogue series in late November, the former intended for participants who identify as white and the latter for participants who identify as non-white. The two groups are brought together in a third dialogue, “Intercultural Learning Communities.” Over 500 faculty and staff have participated in the optional course since its inception in 2016. The Daily has since removed the piece from its website due to concerns for the safety of the individuals mentioned in the article.

In response to the first threat, authorities evacuated Miller Hall, Ballou Hall and the Mayer Campus Center. Tisch Library was also evacuated, though it was not under orders from the university to do so. Sweeps of these buildings did not uncover any bombs, and they were deemed safe for reentry. Local and state authorities began a joint investigation into the source of the threat.

A second email was received on the morning of Dec. 15, marking the second consecutive day of a threat. An alert to the Tufts community came as students began their first final exams, prompting the evacuations of nine buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus. The disruption to the start of exam period prompted a request by the executive board of Tufts Community Union Senate to reschedule remaining exams or move them online.

“Aside from fear, these threats took away studying hours, they took away almost an entire reading period day [and strained] the mental health of students,” TCU President Jaden Pena told the Daily.

Shortly after the request was made, the deans of Tufts’ undergraduate schools instructed faculty to postpone exams originally scheduled for the afternoon and evening of Dec. 15 and to move all remaining exams online. While some professors responded by switching their original exams to an online format, others also changed grading formulas to give the exams less weight or canceled their exams entirely.

The second threat once again cited “anti white racism” as its motive. However, the email was sent from a new address. The sender wrote that they sought to “send a message” against the use of “identity politics.” Authorities have not confirmed whether the threats came from the same source.

In the early afternoon, authorities gave an all-clear and the campus reopened. A few hours later, the Daily received a message from a person claiming credit for the bomb threats through its anonymous tip line. The tip, which the Daily turned over to authorities, referenced the November murder of four college students in Moscow, Idaho.

“The fake threats are just something that leads to another,” the message read. 

Police patrol cars are pictured outside Eaton Hall on Dec. 15. (Julia Shannon-Grillo / The Tufts Daily)

On the morning of Friday, Dec. 16, Tufts community members received an alert of a security threat affecting the Medford/Somerville campus. The Daily first reported that the increased security presence was due to an “ongoing threat” but later confirmed that the university had received a third threat that morning. It is unclear if the threat named specific buildings as targets, as the previous two threats to the university had done. Campus authorities did not evacuate any buildings on Dec. 16.

Neither the Daily nor the campus community were made aware of any threats over the weekend. A fourth threat arrived midday on Monday, Dec. 19.

In a move that would be repeated for the next three days, the fourth threat was sent to Tufts’ undergraduate admissions office, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts admissions office, Tufts Technology Services, local news outlets, Fall River Police Department, Boston Police Department, an East Boston UPS Store, JFK Terminal 4 and Atlanta Airlines Terminal Company. 

Monday’s threat primarily targeted residence halls on the Medford/Somerville campus. The five residence halls named in the threat received orders to evacuate while some students were taking final exams online. Authorities later issued an all-clear. At this time, the Daily confirmed that federal law enforcement agencies had become involved in the ongoing investigation. The threat once again came from a new email, and authorities have not confirmed whether they believe it was sent by the same person as previous threats.

Following the all-clear, the Daily received two more messages through its tip line, using the same pseudonym as found in the Dec. 14 email. The messages were forwarded to the Tufts University Police Department.

University President Anthony Monaco connected the threats to initiatives that promote diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at Tufts in a message to the campus community on Monday afternoon.

“I acknowledge that these threats have been unnerving to members of our community, especially those who are deeply involved in DEIJ work,” Monaco wrote. “We understand the deep anxiety and fear that you have been experiencing—we are here for you.”

A fifth threat on Tuesday morning was sent to the same recipients as Monday’s threat, with the addition of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The threat moved beyond Tufts’ campus, naming ATF’s Boston Field Division on Causeway Street as the location of a bomb in addition to buildings at Tufts. The email referred to ATF as an “unconstitutional agency,” telling its agents, “You have forfeited your right to life.”

Following the fifth threat, Tufts did not evacuate the buildings named in the message. The Medford/Somerville campus remained open, and community members were asked to report any suspicious activity to TUPD. 

Tufts received its sixth threat on Wednesday, Dec. 21 but did not close the Medford/Somerville campus. The threat was sent to the same recipients as the day prior and once again targeted the Boston Field Division of ATF. In the threat, the sender referenced the perpetrator of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and accused ATF of violating a constitutional right, though the precise right was not specified. Both Tuesday and Wednesday’s threats were sent from new email addresses.

On Thursday, Dec. 22, Tufts received the seventh threat. It was written mostly in Yoruba and claimed that the bomb threats were made in the name of Boko Haram, a well-known Islamic terrorist group. The Daily has not found any evidence to suggest a credible connection between the source of the bomb threats and Boko Haram.

In addition to ATF and buildings on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, the threat targeted Tufts’ Health Science campus in Boston and the Greater Boston Health Center branch of Planned Parenthood. No buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus were evacuated in response to the email.

“While the Boston Police Department and Planned Parenthood security teams do not see any credible threat, we are following all security protocols,” a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts wrote in an email to the Daily. It is unclear what specific security protocols were enacted on Thursday. ATF Boston could not be reached for comment.

Later Thursday morning, Tufts received the email that claimed the bomb threats would stop.

“The university, in collaboration with partner agencies, continually evaluates the situation and prioritizes the community’s safety when making decisions about the appropriate security response,” Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins wrote in a statement to the Daily. “It will continue to apply this approach going forward.”

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Engineering Kyongbum Lee notified faculty and staff on Wednesday that Tufts will continue to send out alerts if the threats persist throughout winter break. Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar announced to the student body in a separate email that the university is “not anticipating any changes to [its] campus operations or procedures” upon students’ return to campus for the spring semester.

A joint investigation between federal, state and local authorities is ongoing. It is unclear when the investigation will conclude, but Monaco noted in his Dec. 19 message to the Tufts community that it “will take some time.” 

“We will do all we can to keep our community safe and protected so that together we can deliver on this important mission,” Monaco wrote. 

Students seeking support after recent events can contact the University ChaplaincyCounseling and Mental Health ServicesEars for Peers, the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion, the International Center or the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs. Monaco urged faculty and staff to access mental health resources through the University Chaplaincy and the Tufts Employee Assistance Program.