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Online threat of violence shuts down San Francisco State; person of interest detained

A man walks alone on a path on the San Francisco State campus.
A man walks on the San Francisco State University campus in March 2020.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Law enforcement authorities detained a person of interest in their investigation of a violent threat made on social media to San Francisco State on Tuesday morning that prompted cancellation of in-person classes and a partial-day lockdown of students who live on campus, officials said.

University President Lynn Mahoney said the person of interest, who was not identified, is not affiliated with the university and officials do not know what prompted the threat.

In-person classes remained online Tuesday and campus buildings, including the library, stayed closed. More than 3,000 resident students who were told to shelter inside Tuesday morning were cleared to leave their living areas by early afternoon.

“I will tell you that our students who live on campus were rattled by this. This is their home — someone threatened their home,” Mahoney said. Students were delivered food to residence halls and have been encouraged to utilize mental health resources on campus.

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“This was disturbing and, you know, we’re all still a little rattled because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic so our students’ mental health has been hit hard.”

The university plans to reopen fully on Wednesday.

Students flagged the university overnight to “an anonymous non-specific threat” that was posted to a social media page frequently visited by students before it was quickly deleted, Mahoney said during a media call. University Police and the San Francisco Police Department were contacted soon after as administrators decided to delay the start of the day and shift classes to online platforms.

“We have 3,100 students living on our campus. We have another 10,000 taking classes; we have 2,000 employees on any given day on campus,” Mahoney said. “With the lack of information, we exercised an abundance of caution to allow University Police time to investigate.

Officials increased the public safety presence on campus to “protect members of the SF State community who remain on campus, including residential students and staff members who support them,” university spokesperson Kent Bravo said in a statement.

Initially, officials said campus activities would be delayed until 10 a.m. Tuesday before extending the cancellation through the day.

California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro addressed the situation during an already scheduled conversation with faculty and students over Zoom.

“I know it’s been a challenging day for many, and I just want to express my appreciation for the way that things have been handled by the administration,” he said. “I know that we’re all working to ensure that everybody is safe.”

Castro had originally planned to be on campus for the discussion and to meet with Mahoney, the Associated Students board and other campus officials and organizations. Instead, he answered questions from a campus office in downtown San Francisco.

Teddy Albiniak, chair of the Academic Senate, began the discussion by noting the day’s incident and the campus’ ability to “act swiftly.”


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