Campus Times receives suspicious letters

by Crystal Apilado
Features Editor

Two suspicious letters were delivered to the Campus Times room at 2 p.m. Wednesday around the time the publication’s editors were wrapping up their weekly meeting.

The first letter was a stuffed white envelope with no return address and strange religious/political messages. It was addressed to the University of La Verne newspaper and radio departments.

“There was threatening writing on it,” said Elizabeth Zwerling, assistant professor of journalism and Campus Times adviser.

The second letter was a business letter, which had been previously opened and then taped back together, with a Washington, D.C., postmark.

Zwerling called Campus Safety and the La Verne Police Department shortly after the letters were delivered to the room.

The room was evacuated at around 2:15 p.m. and the occupants who had handled the envelopes were instructed by security to wash their hands with warm water and soap.

Campus Safety officer Rudy Flores and La Verne Police Department officer Charles Pratella were on the scene shortly after.

The officers inspected the envelopes with latex gloves and plastic bags. They found no harmful powders or substances, they said. The envelopes were nonetheless taken away by Campus Safety.

“There is really nothing that we can do,” said Sam Gonzales, a LVPD officer on the scene in the new Arts and Communications building. “There was no powdery substance.”

Zwerling said that although she and the Campus Times staff felt that the letters were probably a prank, she still thought she should inform Campus Safety.

“It’s a serious time,” Zwerling said. “If it were (real) it would have touched a lot of people.”

In light of the recent incidents of bioterrorism in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., where deadly anthrax spores were spread through the mail, it is important to be cautious, Prattella said.

John Lentz, director of campus safety and transportation, returned them to the Campus Times just after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“The police department has cleared them,” said Lentz.

He added, however, that it is a serious offense to send a letter with fake powder as a joke and the offender could face many years in prison.

According to Gonzales, a number of concerned La Verne citizens have been calling the LVPD about suspicious mail.

“There’s a lot of paranoia,” said Gonzales.

While these were the first such incidents reported on campus, last month Campus Safety distributed a memo to faculty and staff telling them how to identify and deal with suspicious mail.

According to the memo, signs to look for include too much postage, no return address a return address that doesn’t match the postmark, a letter from overseas, excessive tape, stains, bulkiness and strange smells.

Those receiving suspicious mail should not open it. They should isolate themselves and others from the package, and then to wash their hands with soap and water frequently.

If there is any doubt about a piece of mail, Campus Safety should be contacted so that they can investigate.

Campus Safety will then contact the LVPD to come in and inspect the mailing. From there the police will determine if there is a further threat.

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Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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