Multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in an ongoing investigation surrounding bomb threats and a suspected arson that occurred outside of Health Service in the early morning hours of Monday, May 9. The investigation is being carried out by a joint law enforcement team made up of the state Fire Marshal, Somerville Police, Medford Police, Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) and the Massachusetts State Police.
According to Carmen Lowe, dean of undergraduate studies, final examinations for as many as 50 courses were postponed and impacted after the morning’s events, based on the Registrar’s schedule.
Police have since been conducting interviews with students to piece together details about the day, which began at 4:30 a.m. when a vehicle outside of Health Service near 124 Professors Row caught fire and a taped note was discovered outside the building indicating bomb threats to Cabot Hall, Braker Hall, Cohen Auditorium and Tisch Library.
The burning vehicle, which belonged to Senior Director of Health and Wellness Service at Health Service Michelle Bowdler, was extinguished by the Somerville Fire Department. A May 9 Boston Herald article stated that Bowdler’s car had been left parked outside the building for the weekend.
Over a dozen law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Boston Police Department, were on campus throughout the day on May 9 to determine the cause of the fire and learn more about the threats. The buildings named in the note were evacuated and secured by 9:33 a.m., according to a community-wide email first sent through the Tufts Emergency Alert System.
The note contained language tying the burning car to the bomb threats, and alluded to ongoing tensions surrounding the university and its contracted janitors. It also threatened future bomb placements if the note was not taken seriously.
Mary Jeka, senior vice president of University Relations and general counsel, said during a press conference on the day of the fire that the threats appeared to “be random.”
“At this juncture, the note did make some reference to janitors on campus,” she said at the press conference. “Law enforcement is investigating … if it is a member of the student groups or any outside organization.”
Jeka added that TUPD had received information from a confidential source on May 8, the day before the events took place, that there would be a disruption on campus, although she did not comment on the affiliation of the source or the nature of the disruption.
A May 9 press release from the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), a student group that has vocally supported university janitors and labor, described the events of that morning to be, “completely contrary to the values of Tufts Labor Coalition.”
“Tufts Labor Coalition would never act in a way that would bring danger to any member of the Tufts community: workers, students, faculty and staff, or administrators,” the release stated. “We are thankful for the first responders working to maintain the safety of our community and the essential employees remaining on campus.”
Support for Tufts’ janitors has been a major cause for the TLC, with highly visible non-violent actions on campus, including a week-long hunger strike, protests at the Commencement ceremony last spring and recent protests at Jumbo Days to support janitors in their upcoming contract negotiations. The note did not specifically name TLC, instead referencing the “labor movement.”
The union that represents janitorial staff at Tufts, 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 615, also sent out a press release that condemned the violent actions from that morning.
“The Union was shocked and dismayed to learn of the car fire and bomb threat at Tufts this morning,” the release read. “We pledge our full assistance with any official investigation, in whatever way we can help.”
As a result of the events, Tufts postponed exams scheduled for the morning, at noon and for 3:30 p.m. in Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) and all exams scheduled at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy until Thursday or Friday that week.
Lowe explained that Friday was chosen as a rescheduled date because few exams were originally scheduled to take place on that day, so that conflicts between exams and testing spaces could be minimized. Students who were inconvenienced because of preexisting travel plans were able to make arrangements with their professors and deans, she said.
“Rescheduling exams for some students who have situations come up is not an uncommon occurrence,” Jeka said during the press conference.
Rising sophomore Nick Golin said that although he first received an email about the bomb threats and fire at around 6:30 a.m., the notification about the postponement of noon final exams came “at the last minute,” three minutes before his scheduled exam for AST 009, Concepts of the Cosmos.
“It’s definitely unsettling because my test was supposed to be in Cabot, which was one of the suspected places,” Golin said.
Another rising sophomore, Judy Yau, had a final exam for Math 34, Calculus II, that morning. However, her exam took place as planned and she said there was no communication from the instructors beforehand.
“It’s kind of shocking as I learn more about the details, what they’ve given out, like the car fire,” Yau said. “I never expected that to happen here at a place like Tufts.”
Rising senior Samantha Toohey’s father Mike told the Daily that he thought the university dealt with the situation very efficiently.
“[Sam] was informed first thing in the morning,” he said.
Anyone with information about the May 9 incidents is encouraged to call the State Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline at 1-800-682-9229 for rewards of up to $5,000.