COLUMBIA, Mo. (Reuters) - A 19-year-old white Missouri man charged with making terrorist threats on social media to shoot black students at the University of Missouri campus was denied bond on Thursday, and court documents said he expressed a “deep interest” in a recent Oregon school massacre.
Hunter M. Park, of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, appeared in Boone County Circuit Court days after two of the school’s top administrators resigned after protests over their handling of racial incidents at the main Columbia campus.
Police said Park’s threats had circulated on social media, including a messaging app called Yik Yak, where an anonymous post tagged “Columbia” late on Tuesday read: “I‘m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”
Park was arrested on Wednesday at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) in Rolla, where he is a sophomore studying computer science. S&T is part of the University of Missouri System and Rolla is about 95 miles (153 km) south of Columbia.
In documents filed with the court, Missouri campus police described locating Park at his dormitory room in Rolla, where he acknowledged the threats were “inappropriate.”
Park admitted using a quote associated with the shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the documents said. That Oct. 1 massacre left 10 dead including the shooter.
In one threat, Park said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.” University of Missouri officer Dustin Heckmaster said that quote was believed to have originated with the Oregon shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer.
Court documents said police asked Park why he used that wording, and he replied: “I don’t know ... deep interest.”
At Thursday’s bail hearing, Park appeared via video conference from jail, wearing black-and-white striped shirt and pants. No plea was entered on his behalf.
His attorney, Jeffrey Hilbrenner, argued for a $10,000 bond, home detention and restricted use of technology, saying Park was not a danger to the community.
“The investigation does not show that he had the capability or the mechanism to carry out the threat,” Hilbrenner said of Park, shown on the screen standing with his hands behind his back. His parents and two brothers attended the hearing and did not speak to the media afterward.
Hilbrenner said Park had medical issues that were exacerbated by his jail stay, but did not describe them.
Boone County Circuit Judge Kimberly Shaw denied the defense request on bail after the prosecutor argued Park was a threat to the community. Park’s felony review hearing is scheduled for Nov. 18. A $4,500 bond was initially set after Park’s arrest, but was then withdrawn.
If convicted, Park faces up to seven years in jail, according to the Missouri General Assembly website.
The Missouri incident is one that has raised tensions on U.S. university campuses, where marches or walkouts have taken place this week as students protest what they see as school officials’ lenient approach to racial abuse. Hundreds of students on several U.S. campuses wore all-black clothing on Thursday in a show of solidarity.
Also on Thursday, messages were posted online threatening to murder students at the historically black college Howard University in Washington. Howard President Wayne Frederick said his school was working with law enforcement and had increased campus security.
“We do see this as a growing national problem,” Frederick told CNN.
The Columbia campus is 115 miles (185 km) west of Ferguson, Missouri, where a white policeman fatally shot an unarmed black teenager last year. The campus has become the epicenter of student protests after several black students said they were abused there. Also on Thursday, Missouri named an African American alumnus, Mike Middleton, as interim president. [L1N1373F4]
Sympathetic gatherings have taken place at Yale University, Ithaca College in New York, Smith College in Massachusetts and Claremont McKenna College in California. On Thursday in Virginia, more than two dozen black students at Virginia Commonwealth University occupied the president’s office asking for more black faculty members.
Students at a number of other U.S. schools, including Cornell University, American University and New York University are posting online about “how to get the conversation going about race issues,” Raven Fowlkes-Witten, a junior at Smith College, told Reuters.
Fowlkes-Witten, who helped organize a walkout at Smith on Wednesday, said there are about 40 people talking online so far.
On Wednesday, another 19-year-old white college student in Missouri was arrested for making threats on social media against blacks. Connor Stottlemyre, a student at Northwest Missouri State University, was arrested by campus police in Maryville for threatening violence.
Stottlemyre was charged on Thursday in Nodaway County Circuit Court with making terrorist threats, a felony. According to a criminal complaint, he posted a threat on Yik Yak on Nov. 11: “I‘m gonna shoot any black ppl tomorrow so be ready,” and “I love evil, I can’t wait for Northwest to make the news tomorrow.”
No bond has been set, pending an initial appearance scheduled for Nov. 17.
Reporting by Anthony Romano, Madi Alexander and Lakshna Mehta in Columbia, Missouri, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Ian Simpson in Washington, Gary Robertson in Richmond, Virginia, and Melissa Fares in New York; Writing by Ben Klayman and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio