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Caller said he planted bombs at UC Berkeley and Cal State L.A.

April 18, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein, Matt Stevens, Kate Mather and Samantha Schaefer
  • A telephone warning that a bomb would go off in two hours prompted the evacuation and closure of the Cal State L.A. campus Thursday afternoon.
A telephone warning that a bomb would go off in two hours prompted the evacuation… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

The caller who said he had placed a bomb on the Cal State L.A. campus and would blow it up also told police he had placed a similar device on the campus of UC Berkeley.

The reactions of the two public universities, though, were markedly different.

Cal State L.A. chose to suspend classes and immediately evacuate the 20,000-student campus, while UC Berkeley police officials determined the threat had “low credibility” and the university continued operating as normal.  

“We were informed secondhand through the originating agency [LAPD],” said Lt. Eric Tejada of the UC Berkeley Police Department. “We did a threat assessment and determined it was a low threat. We decided to keep things business as usual.”

That was not the case at Cal State L.A., which ordered evacuations but failed to deliver timely and targeted notifications, according to students and staff.  

Los Angeles police officials said an unknown suspect called El Monte police from a pay phone outside a Carl's Jr. restaurant and said that he had placed a bomb on the Cal State campus and on the UC Berkeley campus, and that the devices would go off in two hours.

Authorities have now called off the bomb search on the campus of Cal State L.A., and the scene was cleared about 2:30 p.m., officials said Thursday afternoon.

The evacuation caused mass confusion among students and staff, who said they were unclear why they were evacuating.

Jonny Barrios tweeted his frustration.

“I am still waiting to receive either a text message or an email!!! And this happened about 1 hour and 30 mins ago," he wrote on his account, @yankgrana.

“It’s bad," Barrios told The Times. "If someone wasn’t able to check Twitter, they would show up to campus and not know what’s going on. You're out of the loop.”

“I’m assuming it’s a hoax," he continued, "but by the way they’re taking it -- especially after Boston -- they should have better communication of telling students what’s going on instead of 'Get out, get out, get out!' ”

LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore said school administrators, after learning of the threat sometime before noon, made the decision to evacuate the El Sereno campus and cancel classes as a precaution. Students and staff said an alarm went off about noon, and once outside, students were ordered to leave campus.

The university posted information on its Twitter and Facebook pages announcing the evacuation and closure about 12:45 p.m., though no details were provided. By 1:30 p.m., the university posted a message on its website.

More than 90 minutes after the Twitter message was posted, several students and faculty said they were still waiting for a text or email through the university's emergency notification system, despite a Cal State L.A. tweet sent shortly before 2 p.m. that said the university had "already sent out text messages and campuswide email notifications alerting the campus of the emergency."

Senior Caroline Monroy said she and her sister, also a student at Cal State L.A., are signed up for emergency alerts but have not received any from the university. Most of their information about the threat has come through Twitter and Facebook, she said.

Jimmy Ruiz, a transfer student at Cal State L.A., said he was on his way back to the dorms when resident assistants told students they had to leave the building. Students stood in the parking lot, confused, until police and bomb squad members arrived and told them to leave the campus entirely, he said.

University entrances were blocked off, with officers preventing anyone from coming in, he said.

Ruiz, a dorm resident, said he had no plan for where to go if the university remained closed. He said he had not received notifications from the university about the situation.

“I have no idea what to do, I have no family in L.A.,” he said. “The people I’m with are the ones I’m dorming with. No one lives around here.”

A faculty member who asked not to be identified said there was “shock and confusion” as to what people were supposed to do.

He said alarms went off about noon and students and faculty evacuated, assuming it was a drill. He said he did not receive a notification to evacuate campus. When people evacuated, he said, they saw “absolutely no police presence whatsoever.”

The faculty member said that gradually, people began to hear that an evacuation had been ordered, and word spread informally.

“It was more of a casual response,” he said. “People were sitting in cars listening to music because they didn’t want to leave in the jam."

“We all left feeling a little in the dark," he said.

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