Hamilton College moves back toward normalcy following arrest of student for online threat
CLINTON — A Hamilton College student has been charged with making the social media threat that put the campus in a three-hour lockdown on Sunday, according to the New York State Police.
Troopers and college officials said Peter A. Howard III, 20, of Louisville, Kentucky, made a threat to “shoot up” a specific building on campus on the social media platform Jodel on Sunday. The authorities were notified shortly before 6 p.m. and the school issued a shelter-in-place order. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the campus, including the FBI, in order to conduct a thorough search of several campus buildings.
Multiple students remained hidden in those buildings for the entire lockdown, officials stated.
It was eventually determined that there was no active threat to students or staff. Officials said the campus was given the “all clear” at 9:23 p.m.
“It was quite traumatizing” for the students, said Francis S. Coots, director of public safety.
Additional counseling and meal services were made available to students once the lockdown was lifted, and there will be an increased presence of counselors and public safety officers this week. Classes were held as normal on Monday.
A state police investigation uncovered Howard as the online poster, troopers said. Officials said the Jodel platform assisted in tracking the poster. Howard was located in his dormitory Sunday night and was taken into custody without incident on a charge of making a threat of mass harm, a misdemeanor, troopers stated.
Howard was issued an appearance ticket for Kirkland Town Court for May 2.
Howard is a sophomore student who lives on campus in a residence hall, school officials said. He has been placed on interim suspension while the school conducts an internal investigation.
“He will be subject to the student disciplinary process,” said Coots.
“Any type of threat made on our campus is a violation of our policy.”
Coots said he did not know Howard’s motivation or if he intended to carry out the threat. He said no weapons were found in Howard’s dorm room or anywhere nearby. Coots said it is believed that Howard posted the threat while on campus, but his movements during that 3-hour window are not yet fully known. Coots said Howard is believed to have been in his dorm at some point.
“I believe this had nothing to do with swatting,” Coots noted. He said swatting — in which someone calls in a fake threat in order to get a large police response — usually involves someone who is “insidious” or “looking for attention” or attempting to scout out emergency response.
“I don’t believe that’s what happened last night,” Coots stated.
When Coots’s office first received a screenshot of the social media threat, he said “I took it that it was serious and that we handle it appropriately.” He said the threat specifically mentioned the Kirner-Johnson Building, using the campus nickname of “KJ.” Coots said the building nickname was an indication that the person was “familiar with our campus.”
Coots and Hamilton College officials said there was a slight error in the wording of their initial emergency alert, which may have caused undue stress.
“Overall, our response protocols worked as intended, but we regret that our initial messages indicated the presence of ‘an armed assailant’ rather than the threat of an armed assailant,” college officials said.
“We are sorry for any additional stress this may have caused.”
Coots explained that the college has several emergency alerts pre-written in order to be used as quickly as possible. He said they made some modifications to one of those pre-written messages on Sunday, but forgot to alter the title.
“We forgot to change the title. We missed it,” Coots said. “These are things we look at and learn from.”
Coots said Hamilton College will be reviewing Sunday’s events to determine what can be changed or made better for any future emergencies. One such potential change is that the school is going through campus to make sure more doors are able to be locked, he noted.
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