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Racist E-Mail at Iowa College Is Linked to Black Student

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nearly a month of unnerving racist threats against minority students at the University of Iowa’s College of Dentistry, police arrested an unlikely suspect early Thursday: a 23-year-old African American woman in her second year at the school.

Tarsha Michelle Claiborne of Baton Rouge, La., allegedly sent several threatening e-mail messages from a university computer--including a bomb threat that closed the college Tuesday as 30 bomb squad officers went through every locker and desk.

Claiborne also is accused of placing a plate of spaghetti, colored red with food dye, on the doorstep of another black student at the school, along with a note that read: “Black man’s brains.”

She was arrested at her home after police obtained a search warrant. She confessed to the crimes, according to court documents, and could face more than 20 years in prison.

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Authorities charged Claiborne with a felony count of threats in violation of individual rights, one count of criminal trespass and misdemeanor charges for three previous e-mail threats.

Following several tense weeks, the mood on the campus of 28,000 students was one of perplexed thankfulness Thursday, students and administrators said.

“It was a difficult situation, and there’s a definite sense of relief,” said university spokesman Steve Parrott. “But that’s kind of moderated by, ‘Shoot, it’s one of our own.’ ”

A teenage boy who lives next door to the Baton Rouge house where Claiborne lives with her family said that she is a friendly woman who had never been in trouble, as far as he knew.

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The threats began the last week of March, when dental college Dean David Johnsen and several faculty members received an anonymous e-mail urging them to rid the college of its minorities. About 49 of the college’s 381 students are minorities.

Claiming to be from “highly recognized citizens who want change,” the e-mail expressed “disgust and hatred towards not only black students but all minority students breathing the fresh air of Iowa City.”

The message said the college had three days to expel minorities or more e-mails would be sent, this time to students and additional faculty members.

Only two days passed, however, before the second message was sent, this one making direct threats of violence.

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“The students should be afraid, not only for their future careers but for their lives,” the e-mail warned. “If firearms need to be used. Then the[y] will.”

The message was sent from an Excite.com address named “minoritygetout,” whose profile said only that the author was a male.

A few days later, the plate of “brains” appeared. Then a white lab coat was found in flames at the dental science building. Students later received e-mails that asked, “Are you going to take us seriously now?”

A half-dozen vaguely worded bomb threats followed, from different e-mail addresses but all of them sent on either a Tuesday or Thursday. The FBI and state law enforcement officials were called in.

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After 1,000 protesters gathered last week to decry the threats, another e-mail was sent. “We want you to come out and rally and protest,” it read. “Come to work and school and classes. Come and be patients at the College of Dentistry. But every day, you should say goodbye to your family and loved ones as if it would be your last chance.”

Campus police honed in on the computer in a building near the dental school where the e-mails were being generated. They installed a hidden video camera, school officials said.

Another bomb threat was sent Tuesday night, and as demolition experts searched the building Wednesday, campus police sought to identify a young woman caught on videotape leaving the computer about the time the e-mails were sent. Another dental student identified Claiborne, authorities said.


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