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Cap, gown and pat-down

A graduation at UC Riverside, put off Friday because of a bomb threat, was held Monday amid tight security.

June 19, 2007|Sara Lin and Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writers

With flower bouquets, balloons, and leis in hand, family and friends headed to a UC Riverside graduation ceremony Monday morning opened their bags and purses as if they were entering an airport security line.

A bomb threat had prompted university officials to reschedule the graduation ceremony for business administration students from Friday night to Monday morning, and security guards weren't taking any chances.

Before entering a gated area, attendees drank beverages -- banned from the ceremony -- and left behind camera cases large and small. Even a giant stuffed Mickey Mouse got a pat-down.

Police on Saturday arrested Audley Yung, 22, a former UCR student, after he allegedly planted two homemade firebombs on campus, set a palm tree on fire and sent university officials threatening letters.

Yung, originally from Richmond, Calif., had been held on $50,000 bail before being released at 5 p.m. on Sunday. He is not due back in court until July 17, said Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for the Riverside County district attorney's office.

Erich Chen, a 22-year-old senior who received his degree from the UC Riverside business school Monday, described Yung as an avid photographer who had an active social life.

After discovering a mutual interest in photography, Chen and Yung started a dialogue on the website before becoming friends, often hanging out at each other's apartments.

Chen said Yung is a Pi Alpha Phi fraternity member and has a girlfriend.

"He is not a loner or anything like that," Chen said Monday. "I think there's something that's not right about the entire picture because for someone to do something extremely violent, there has to be signs that this person is troubled mentally or emotionally. There's nothing like that I've seen with Audley."

Chen said he visited Yung's apartment the day before Yung's arrest to borrow lighting equipment.

"I had to leave quickly, but he totally seemed normal to me," Chen said. "Even at that time. It's bewildering to me."

News that Yung was not currently enrolled at UCR unsettled Chen.

"We never really talked about classes," he said. "It was always about photography. But on finals week, I remember trying to plan shoots together on Thursday and he called to cancel because he said he had two finals on Thursday."

Chen, who was scheduled to receive his degree at the same commencement ceremony Yung allegedly threatened to bomb, said he had tried to call Yung, but the calls went straight to his answering machine.

"I'm trying to make sense of things, but there's nothing that I can think of, other than it was supposed to be a prank or something," Chen said. "He's a senior in a frat and maybe he was trying to be funny or something."

Authorities have not speculated about a motive. However, one neighbor told the Riverside Press Enterprise that Yung's mother had told him she had come to town to see her son graduate. University officials said Yung was not eligible for graduation.

The scheduling change meant there were rows of empty chairs as many, including nearly 120 graduates, had to skip the ceremony.

Despite graduating with high honors, Janet Alvarez, 27, couldn't help feeling disappointed. The magna cum laude student from San Jacinto couldn't share the moment with her parents.

"They had to work," she said. "It was truly an inconvenience. There were a lot of empty chairs and that was disappointing. There were graduates who had to work and couldn't come."

The situation began Friday about 6 a.m. when university groundskeepers found a smoldering palm tree outside the Life Sciences building, near the outdoor Carillon Mall where the graduation ceremony for the A. Gary Anderson School of Management was to take place.

Responding firefighters discovered a plastic bottle containing flammable liquid. Police and fire officials searching the area discovered a second firebomb hidden in a planter outside the same building. University officials decided at 3:20 p.m. to postpone the ceremony after finding a threatening letter outside the campus bookstore that mentioned the Friday night commencement. A second letter was received by an administrator.

Some students didn't hear the news until they drove on campus and saw signs announcing that graduation had been postponed.

"I thought it was a joke at first," said Angela Ledesma, 24, a business administration graduate from Riverside.

In her opening remarks Monday morning, UCR Chancellor France A. Cordova thanked audience members for their patience in dealing with the extra security and apologized to students about the scheduling.

"I realize this special day has been compromised by the threats of last Friday. For this I'm very sorry," Cordova said.

But graduates seemed to make the best of it. As they spilled onto a grassy quad beneath UCR's signature bell tower, the usual post-graduation commotion began. Graduates let out cheers as parents, aunts and uncles chased them around with cameras and flowers.

"Half of my friends couldn't make it, but as long as I graduated in the end, it's OK," said Francis Toledo, 23, of Colton.

The rescheduled ceremony worked out for at least one family.

Sat Dewan, 70, drove from Irvine to congratulate his niece. He held a cluster of balloons and a small bouquet of roses from his backyard.

"We were going to miss it," he said. "We were out of town, just got back in last night."


Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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