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Campus prank threat was copycat of hoax

December 10, 2007 12:00:00 AM PST
A Loyola Marymount University student who allegedly threatened to carry out a campus shooting is free on bail after he was arrested over the weekend. Police have a disturbing theory on why that Internet threat was made.It was one short posting on the Internet, but it caused a lot of disruption on the school campus just as students were getting ready to take finals. Police report that not only was this a hoax, but it was apparently a copycat of another hoax.

The threat was posted on JuicyCampus.com, a blog where students can post alarming comments about anything and anyone without disclosing their own name. But it is definitely not anonymous to LAPD's Criminal Intelligence Bureau. A student from Loyola Marymount University was taken into custody 12 hours after he scripted a threatening comment.

"He was going to shoot and kill as many people as he could, until which time he was incapacitated or killed by the police," said Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the LAPD.

The suspect allegedly identified a specific area for violence -- the Alumni Mall. Surveillance cameras scanned the campus as campus safety officials issued warnings by e-mail and cell phone.

"My very first thought was I hope this isn't real, you know? And if so, where do I go and hide," said LMU graduate student Santiago Almaguer.

"We shut all our gates down and doubled up our security forces on the gates," said Chief Ray Hilyar of LMU Public Safety.

An LAPD tech team traced the posting to a computer at a campus apartment. Officers surrounded the building, and then detained four students before the blogger was identified as 21-year-old student, Carlos Huerta.

Huerta was allegedly inspired by an Australian student who made a very similar threat to shoot people at The Grove in L.A.'s Fairfax District.

"I'm not sure if it was a cut and paste job, but it was probably within a word or two similar," said Deputy Chief Downing.

Deputy Chief Downing says last week's spree killing in Nebraska set off the hoaxes.

"The Omaha shooting occurred Wednesday. Following that was the threat on The Grove, which led to Melbourne. And then on Saturday, it was the Loyola threat," said Deputy Chief Downing.

The arrest and the offensive blog postings have students speaking out.

"I don't know what the intention of that Web site is really," said LMU student Jonathan Gomez. "Just seems to want to spread gossip."

"I think he should definitely be in a lot of trouble for it, to kind of dissuade people from doing it in the future," said LMU student Peter Gallo. "But I don't think he should go to prison for it."

"I believe he thought it was something funny that turned out not so funny," said Hilyar.

The message from police is that they have plenty on their hands dealing with real emergencies -- pranks like this one just make matters worse.

Carlos Huerta remains free after pasting $100,000 bail. He could be arraigned later this week.

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