Elmhurst students 'on edge' as classes resume after vandalism, threats
Some Elmhurst College students remained "on edge" and others returned to normalcy Wednesday as classes resumed in the wake of several unsolved instances of hateful messages and unspecific threats, as well as a report of a person possibly carrying a gun.
Students returned to regularly scheduled activities with an increased security presence one night after a report that someone might have had a gun at Prospect Avenue and Walter Street near the campus.
The college, in a release on its website, said police found a man about 6:40 p.m. Tuesday near Prospect and Walter and determined he was a concealed-carry license holder. Police then removed the man from the area, which is a weapon-free zone, with no threat to the campus and no apparent connection to the string vandalism in campus buildings, the update said.
Officials closed the campus and called off all classes Monday and Tuesday after at least five cases of racially charged, homophobic or threatening messages were found during the past two weeks in two dorms and a library.
President Troy D. Van Aken, in a written statement, said most students he talked with Wednesday told him they were doing OK.
"The Leader," the student newspaper for the private campus of roughly 3,500 students near downtown Elmhurst, has been tracking news of the messages and student reaction.
Editor-In-Chief Syeda Sameeha said some students are reacting with anger and confusion, and some are feeling overwhelmed.
"We don't know what's going on on our campus," Sameeha said Wednesday in between classes.
In media writing, her first class of the day, Sameeha said the number of students declined.
Connie Mixon, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, said in a written statement some classes were down students but others were full. She said some faculty members who hosted their classes as usual allowed students who were not comfortable attending in person to join through apps.
Van Aken said he was reassured that several instructors reported full attendance, but the dining hall and student union didn't appear as full as usual.
An increased security presence will be on hand at least through the end of the week as police investigate the messages, Marc Molina, executive director of the campus security office, said in a written statement. Desiree Chen, senior director of communications and external relations, said several people told her they appreciated the extra security presence and friendliness of the patrolling officers.
But Sameeha said apprehension remains.
"There was a lot of panic, too, because people were like, 'Wow, this is pretty serious. Class is being canceled for two days,'" she said. "The campus is always going to be on edge until this person or persons or whoever is caught."
Elmhurst police have not responded to several requests for comment and last provided a public update in a news release Monday. The release came after the first four messages were found, three in the Niebuhr residence hall and one in the A.C. Buehler Library. But it came before the most recent message was spotted Monday afternoon in the Dinkmeyer residence hall.
The police release said technicians were investigating the message found in the library and would send evidence for processing in a crime lab.
The campus mood was mixed Wednesday with reactions representing "the full spectrum of emotions," Phil Riordan, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said in a written statement. Some were unafraid and happy to be back in class, others were angry, and still others feared for their safety.
Sameeha said students also noted the availability of counseling provided by the school.
"A lot of people also seem to be appreciate that they can get back to their education, with school reopened today," Sameeha said, "since it does provide some sense of normalcy after some crazy past weeks."