NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Officials at Hocking College in the U.S., a campus carved into a forest in the Appalachian foothills, say they are taking seriously a threat scrawled on a bathroom wall warning that black students would be killed Feb. 2.
The Ohio college has provided temporary housing for students who are too scared to stay in Hocking Heights, the dorm where the threats were found. For those wary of venturing outside until after Feb. 2, teachers are making allowances for missed class work.
Since the first threat was discovered Friday, the school has installed more security cameras in dorms and beefed up foot patrols. A $5,000 reward is being offered, and extra counselors are on hand.
Campus spokeswoman Judy Sinnott said she had not heard previous complaints of racist taunting, but that on a small campus, anything can happen.
“Any time that there are young people, you know, there’s going to be tension,” Sinnott said. “Young people will be young people.”
Hocking covers hundreds of densely treed acres in the Wayne National Forest. The campus overwhelms Nelsonville, an economically depressed rural town plagued with heroin addiction and unemployment. About 400 of the school’s 6,300 students are black, many of whom are foreign exchange students from the Caribbean.
With the threat of a mass killing looming over black students at the community college, Allen Edwards is steering clear of the trees.
“I don’t feel too safe walking by the woods,” said Edwards, a 19-year-old black student from Canton. “There’s woods everywhere. And somebody could be out in them.”
The FBI is investigating the threat scrawled last week on a bathroom wall. It bore the trademarks of just another casual — though chilling — threat of violence on a college campus, but students here aren’t taking any chances.
At least two black students have withdrawn permanently from school out of fear for their safety, and another dozen have moved out of the dorm where the threat was found, officials at the two-year technical college said. Some students seem unperturbed, but others say the threat has brought simmering racial tensions to the surface.
The school confirmed Tuesday that the threat said black students would be killed. At least one subsequent note was reported.
It wasn’t clear whether the Feb. 2 date held any significance for the campus. FBI agent Mike Brooks in Cincinnati said he could not comment.
It’s not the first time racial threats — usually found to be hollow — have interrupted life at a college.
Officials at St. Xavier University in Chicago shut down the campus in 2008 when threatening messages were found scrawled in the bathroom of a freshman dorm, and in 2006 a black woman pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after threatening letters to minorities at her former college led officials to move dozens of students for a night.
But the threat at Hocking, with its racially tense environment, is sending ripples through the area. Students and faculty members at Ohio University in nearby Athens are also on alert. Short of stationing police officers in the woods — which Hocking lacks the manpower to do — officials there say vigilance remains the best defense.