By: Hannah Bonaducci
At 9:49 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, Eastern University students received an email from the Office of the Provost with the subject line “URGENT: Campus Security Emergency Notification.” Within the email, students were alerted that Eastern had received a bomb threat and that everyone was encouraged to get off campus or meet at Olson field.
“The email threat was received at 8:40 a.m. on Nov. 7,” Dr. Kenton Sparks, Eastern University’s Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs said. “Senior leadership immediately convened an emergency meeting and campus security contacted Radnor Police. An assessment was made and the threat was then communicated to the community at 9:45 a.m.”
“I suspected it was a scam almost immediately, but that was a gut reaction,” Eric McCloy, Eastern University’s CIO, said. “I was skeptical because it was poorly written, with bad grammar and spelling errors. However, since that is just a quick rule of thumb, I held back that opinion until Carlos Gonzalez (EU’s Director of Technical and User Services) had more time to scan the data we had.”
Around 10 a.m., the Radnor Police Department arrived on campus with a bomb squad and began their investigation of the campus. The gym was cleared at 11:39 a.m. and the inspection continued with local law enforcement K-9 units until the campus was cleared at 2:35 p.m.
“I would say staying on campus felt unsafe at first because watching the campus go from being filled with life to basically a ghost town is what made everything feel real,” Eastern freshman Kai Irons said. “While I was waiting in the gym I just talked to some of my friends and played basketball. Even after we were told we could go back in the buildings some students were hesitant to go to their rooms.”
“My friend drove a group of friends and me to the King of Prussia mall,” Eastern freshman Maggie Bauer said. “We headed over in a state of confusion and almost panic. Once we were there we walked around aimlessly for about two hours, and in that time, we saw many many Eastern people there with the same idea.”
The next day, students were told that the threat had been traced back to a large email provider in Russia. McCloy shared that this isn’t the first time someone has impersonated an Eastern University community member and sent out a scam email.
“There was nothing obvious indicating why the message was sent,” McCloy said. “The message claimed that it was in support of the Islamic state, but they also lied about their identity and about the existence of explosives on campus, so I don’t see any reason to suddenly trust the sender about their motives.”
“Unfortunately, these scams are common,” he continued. “Most of the time, it is a scam with the goal of making money. When IT finds out about these scams, we block the email address that it comes from, but it is easy to make a new address and try again. The good thing about the Eastern Community is that most people have learned to recognize these impersonation scams.”
In the midst of the panic that occurred, though, the strength of Eastern’s community really shone through. Friends offered cars and homes to get everyone off campus. Professors reached out sharing their concerns and some even opened their homes. People took to Instagram to alert their fellow students, and even the beloved “eastern memez” page posted alerts and updates on their story.
“I love our community,” said Eastern freshman Hannah Trautner. “Everyone is so welcoming and loving. I remember freaking out when I first found out and my friend was so comforting. Before we had to evacuate, I was running to my room and spilled my coffee everywhere in the doorway. My hallmate literally stopped what she was doing to get out and helped me clean up because I was just so overwhelmed.”
“Senior leadership met on the day after this event to assess our response to the threat,” Dr. Sparks said. “While we noted some minor points for improvement, our overall assessment was that EVERYONE responded with prudence and a cooperative spirit. Student responses to this crisis were mature, patient and thoughtful. Honestly, I’m very proud of everyone.”
While the situation wasn’t ideal, the university came together to provide a quick response and support system for everyone on campus. As an important reminder, if you haven’t signed up for e2campus text alerts, you can do so by visiting the Public Safety tab on Eastern’s website to stay up to date on all campus closures and emergency alerts.
“Our students have faced many negative experiences and much disheartening news over the last number of years,” Dr. Sparks closed with. “It breaks my heart, honestly. While Eastern can’t make it all go away, please know that we understand and empathize with these painful experiences. We’re doing what we can to improve support for students and to develop programs to help develop resilience in the face of these and other genuine challenges.”