Michael Tarm and Sophia Tareen
CHICAGO: An online threat against the University of Chicago that led the school to cancel all activities Monday appears to have been motivated by the shooting of a black teenager by a Chicago officer in 2014, federal authorities said.
Jabari R. Dean, 21, of Chicago, threatened online to kill 16 white male students or staff at the University of Chicago, according to the criminal complaint released Monday afternoon by the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. Dean is charged with transmitting a threat in interstate commerce and scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court at 3 p.m. Monday.
The threat came days after a video was released showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. It prompted several days of protests in the city.
The complaint said an FBI officer wasn’t able to see threat that was posted on Nov. 28, but reviewed a screenshot of it provided by the person who reported the threat. Authorities said Dean posted online that he would “execute approximately ... 16 white male students and or staff, which is the same number of time (sic) McDonald was killed.”
The complaint also said Dean admitted to FBI agents that he posted the threat and took it down shortly after.
The University of Illinois at Chicago said earlier Monday that one of its students who lives off-campus was the person arrested, but the complaint did not say whether Dean was a student there.
The University of Chicago, one of the leading teaching and research institutions in the nation and where President Barack Obama taught law, said in a statement Sunday night that the threat mentioned the quad, a popular gathering place, and 10 a.m. Monday.
“It was pretty specific in terms of time and place,” university spokesman Jeremy Manier said.
The University of Chicago statement urged faculty, students and non-essential staff to stay away from the Hyde Park campus on Chicago’s South Side through midnight Monday and told students in college housing to stay indoors.
The normally bustling campus was largely quiet Monday morning as Chicago Police Department squad cars and a wagon patrolled streets, along with campus security cars. Security staff in yellow jackets stood on campus walkways, including the quad that was mentioned in the threat. The time mentioned in the threat came and went without incident.
The university had said the decision to close was taken following “recent tragic events” at other campuses nationwide. On Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, a gunman opened fire and killed nine people. Other shootings have happened in Arizona and Tennessee.
Rafael Munez headed to work at a student dining hall, where he’s been employed for three years. He said he was a little nervous walking onto campus on Monday, particularly thinking about recent campus shootings.
“My wife didn’t want me to come to work,” he said. “It’s scary ... It puts you on your toes.”
Students closed their books, shut down their laptops and hurried home Sunday when the school first alerted people to the threat, according to student body president Tyler Kissinger.
“I work in the campus coffee shop and when people got the notice (announcements and online) they really cleared out of here immediately,” the 21-year-old senior said.
The announcement, which he said was the first time he’s heard of the school closing for any reason besides inclement weather, also was a reminder of what residents in neighborhoods near campus, which is on the South Side of Chicago, live with every day.
“A lot of people on the South Side live in constant fear of gun violence and, in a sense, we are a bit sheltered from that,” he said.
Junchen Feng, who is pursuing a doctorate, said the threat raised his awareness about gun violence in Chicago and beyond.
“For the first time I was thinking about people who live in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan ... where they live under constant threats of death and violence,” said the student from China, who planned to spend the day at home and in a campus building that was a five-minute walk away. “It’s a mindset that we just don’t have.”
Manier said the cancellation of classes and activities would affect more than 30,000 people, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff. The University of Chicago Medical Center was open to patients and had added security, the university said. The Medical Center has nearly 7,500 staff.
Associated Press writers Greg McCune and Don Babwin contributed to this report.