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N.J. college lockdown lifted; no threat found

St. Peter’s College officials say a lockdown in the northern New Jersey campus has been lifted after no threat was found.
/ Source: The Associated Press

St. Peter's College locked down its campus Wednesday for several hours following the discovery of a note that referenced killing students and the massacre at Virginia Tech.

School spokeswoman Lorraine McConnell says campus security became aware at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday of the handwritten note, taped in the stairwell of an administration and classroom building.

The college had e-mail and cell phone text message alerts to students within two minutes.

McConnell says it was the first time the private Roman Catholic school used its text message alert system, installed last summer in response to the Virginia tech killings.

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said the handwritten note made no mention of bombs or guns, but did threaten violence against the school.

Fire officials had said in initial reports that the note was an e-mailed bomb threat. Healy said his information came from a briefing by the police chief.

Police immediately ordered the campus closed while they began searching each room of each building at the school, which has about 3,000 students. No particular building was mentioned in the note, police said.

“We take it very seriously because of everything that has happened nationally. We want to make sure the students are safe,” police Lt. Edgar Martinez told WABC-TV in New York. Nothing had been found by midday, he said.

On Feb. 14, a gunman killed five students and then himself at Northern Illinois University in the deadliest of several recent school shootings around the country.

Explosive-detecting dogs were helping in the search, and students who live on campus were being brought to a nearby gym to have their bags checked, officials said. Commuter students were being sent home, according to a posting on the college’s Web site.

Some students were notified about the threat by text messages from the school. Carmen Class, a freshman, said that some students started to panic when they were told they couldn’t leave the building.

“Some people started screaming,” she said. “I was thinking, ’What’s happening? Is this a rumor or is this real?’ I felt safer after the police came.”

Carmen called her mother, Nancy Class, who waited on a sidewalk by the campus until her daughter was allowed to leave.

“She said, ’Mom, I’m scared, come get me,”’ Class said. “Your heart just stops when you get that call. You want to go running to make sure they’re safe.”

Rebekah Maroun, 19, a sophomore from Somerset, said she immediately thought about the campus shooting at Northern Illinois University.

“I felt my heart pounding as soon as I got the text message,” she said. “That’s actually one of my biggest fears, but you never think it would happen here.”

St. Peter’s posted a notice of the lockdown on its Web site at 10:42 a.m., urging students and faculty to stay inside until further notice.

“In response to a suspicious note, the College decided to be proactive in following our emergency procedures,” an update shortly after noon said. “Updates will be delivered once security is assured.”

A college spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Also Wednesday, a high school in Louisville, Ky., was locked down for a few hours after a student told officials she thought she saw someone with a gun on campus. No weapon was found after a room-by-room police search of Fern Creek Traditional High School, but police said they were looking for a former student based on the witness’s description.