News Column

UTEP Bomb Threat May Have a Prank

March 27, 2013

Aileen B. Flores and Aaron Bracamontes, El Paso Times, Texas

A calm Tuesday afternoon at the University of Texas at El Paso was abruptly disrupted.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 students, faculty and staff had to leave campus immediately after UTEP officials issued an evacuation order by text message just before 2 p.m. because of a bomb threat.

El Paso police officers closed access to campus at University Avenue and Oregon Street and state troopers guarded the school entrance at Sun Bowl Drive

and University Avenue.

Soon after the order was released, people crowded building halls, streets around the school were congested with cars trying to get out of the area, and Sun Metro buses lined up along Oregon Street to pick up students.

Students said some faculty were seen checking classrooms to make sure the campus was cleared.

Lorain Watters, a multimedia journalism student, was in class when she received the alert.

"Everyone in class got the message and we were looking at each other, like what should we do, it's telling us to leave, but the professor was still talking. He had no idea of what was going on," Watters said.

"So finally we said, 'We need to leave,' and he said, 'No, you don't, it's OK.

We will be fine here.' And we told him, 'No, we need to leave now.' "

Watters said students had to persuade the professor to let them go.

"Actually I got the chills when I read the message," she said.

Watters was not the only one afraid of the situation.

Jaime Holguin, who works for Sodexo Inc. food services at the UTEP Union building, said everybody around him was horrified.

"Nobody wants to put their lives at risk," he said.

Holguin said rumors

of a bomb found at a laboratory spread through the campus. That version was not confirmed by UTEP officials.

Officials did not elaborate on the details of the bomb threat but said they had initiated a criminal investigation. All classes will resume today.

An hour after UTEP was evacuated, many students were waiting for their rides at nearby restaurants and coffeehouses, while others were at nearby bars having a drink.

Daniel Singh, 23, said he was walking to class when he got the text message ordering the evacuation.

"At first I was alarmed because you never expect something like that to happen," Singh said. "People were actually running at first, which surprised me."

Singh, whose birthday was on Tuesday, said he went to Cincinnati Bar and Grill to pass the time.

He felt more at ease an hour after the threat when there were fewer police officers in the area.

"At first there were a lot of cops directing traffic; now it's clear," Singh said. "I think if it were a serious threat, they would still be evacuating us further."

Francisco Woo, 18, was going over exam results in his software design class when everyone's phone went off.

"Everyone took out their phone at the same time and it told us there was an evacuation," Woo said. "When everyone began walking out, that is when we heard it was a bomb."

Woo said he thinks the threat was a prank or someone trying to get out of a test.



Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Distributed by MCT Information Services