Threatening letter prompts GRPD, FBI involvement

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Photo by Anna Delph

A threatening letter containing an unidentified powdery substance, which the letter claimed to be anthrax, prompted the evacuation of the Mail and Printing Services building Wednesday morning. When notified, campus safety immediately involved local law enforcement to evaluate the threat. By 2:30 p.m., the powder was determined not to be anthrax, and further investigation was turned over to the FBI.

The letter, which was addressed to Calvin College, was opened following normal procedures. Mail and Printing commonly opens letters that are not specifically addressed so they know where to direct them within the college. A Mail and Printing employee saw the powder and reported it to a supervisor, after which President Le Roy was notified.

“Someone came in and told us that [Le Roy] wanted Mail and Printing evacuated, so we shut down and left,” said Hannah Meijers, a student worker who arrived to work in the Mail and Printing building shortly after the letter was opened. The student workers and employees evacuated the building without incident. “No one was very panicked or worried,” said Meijers. “The police were already there.”

Initially, Meijers said, the staff members were unconcerned, but the situation escalated as law enforcement began to arrive. Following emergency protocol, an email and text message notification was sent out to all students announcing the presence of the threat.

Both the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and fire department sent officers, along with a bomb squad and HazMat toxic materials experts. As per standard protocol for threats of this nature, the FBI was also present at the scene.

When it was clear that the substance was not in fact anthrax, the further investigation was turned over to the FBI. The Mail and Printing building closed until investigation is complete.  “We’ll continue to cooperate with local law enforcement,” stated President Le Roy in a press release Wednesday afternoon.

Captain Vanderkooi of the GRPD also took questions, though he would not comment on the actual makeup of the substance or the contents of the letter, only reiterating that it was threatening.

When asked if any subjects were in custody, Vanderkooi declined to comment one way or the other.

“You’re going to have to ask the FBI,” he said, though he emphasized that it was being taken seriously. “What happened today is a crime,” he said. “It is a felony, minimally.”

One journalist asked about possible connections to a similar threatening letter mailed the same day to Kentwood Public Schools’ Bowen Elementary. That letter was found to be filled with crushed-up cold medicine, according to reporting by WoodTV.

“Yes, it’s related,” said Vanderkooi without elaborating.

Lieutenant Michael Maycroft, who works with the bomb squad of GRPD, also spoke briefly, praising Calvin for their response. “We take all of these [threats] seriously,” he said. “Calvin College has a great plan and they work very well with us; we’ve trained with their campus safety in the past and that’s why this went as smooth as it did.”

“Our employees did what we would have wanted them to do and got campus safety involved right away,” said President Le Roy in the press release, which can be found on Calvin College’s vimeo page. “Calvin College responded in an appropriate way and with the safety and well-being of the whole community as a primary thought.”

“We are grateful that all our students and employees are safe and well,” said President Le Roy. “As of now, we are confident that we can continue normal functions.”