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Kentucky New Era

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False alarms not new to students at Murray State

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Posted: Friday, May 4, 2001 12:00 am

Derek Martin wasn't scared when he was told Murray State University was evacuating the campus because of a bomb threat.

Neither were most of the other students leaving White Hall Wednesday, he said.

"This is the second time we've had to move out this semester," said Martin, an 18-year-old freshman from Cunningham, Ky.

False alarms, fake threats and small fires are common for students who live in the residence halls at Murray State, a university near western Tennessee-Kentucky border.

"It seems like these things are occurring more often," said Mike Maxwell, 24, who is from Dyersburg, Tenn., and lived in dormitories before moving off campus.

University President Kern Alexander ordered the campus evacuated at about 5 p.m. CDT after two e-mails were received warning of explosive devices planted at Murray State buildings, said Mittie Southerland, interim director of public safety.

The e-mails were sent to the student government council from an anonymous Hotmail account warning that the explosive devices would be detonated if $1 million was not paid, said Kentucky State Police spokesman Chuck Robertson.

State police arrested Seamus M. Coffey, 18, of Murray, Ky., on Wednesday and charged him with terroristic threatening and attempted extortion. He was in custody Thursday at the Calloway County Jail on $10,000 bond, to which it was reduced Thursday from $1 million.

Authorities are considering federal charges, Robertson said.

Robertson said Coffey, a freshman at Murray State majoring in education, apparently had money problems.

"The only thing we could come up with is, he needed the money to pay bills," Robertson said. He would not elaborate.

This is the first time in recent memory that the entire university — with an enrollment of 9,000 students — was evacuated, said Paula Hulick, director of campus housing.

"We just sent a lot of people through the building reassuring students and making sure they knew it was OK," Hulick said.

About 2,600 students were cleared from the nine residence universities and 12 on-campus apartments, Hulick said.

"We ended up putting 10 students at one of the churches. The rest went into friends' homes, went home, or faculty and staff and people in the community took them in," Hulick said.

The American Red Cross also offered assistance, she said.

The Alpha Gama Rho fraternity took in 16 students, fraternity president Clay Wells said. Most students thought the bomb threat was a joke, he said.

"The students here are just so used to the fire drills and alarms all the time, I don't think they realized till about 10 or 11 at night when the feds rolled into town that it was a serious situation," Wells said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted the state police in the investigation.

Coffey was arrested after a check of MSU computer files, state police said.

No bomb-making materials were found at his home and university officials decided to suspend the campus bomb search after nothing was found at The Curris Center and Richmond Dormitory, state police said.

A university press release said the threats also included a warning that a fire could be started on campus.

A fire a Hester Hall in 1998 killed MSU student Michael Minger and severely injured another student. Jerry Wayne Walker of Mayfield, another MSU student, was charged with murder and arson in the blaze and will be tried June 25 in Hopkinsville on the charges.

Southerland said the evacuation order was a precaution. University officials plan to allow students back in the residence halls Sunday and classes will resume Monday.

"Frankly, a lot of schools wouldn't have done it in this case," Southerland said.

Carvon Hudson, assistant state fire marshal, said there were 676 reports of fire alarms at Kentucky colleges and universities this year. Murray State reported 53.

"Murray State's running about equal to the rest of them. Is it high? Yes, it's high at all of them," Hudson said.

Colleges are required to report all threats of fire to the state fire marshal's office under state law.

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