NELSONVILLE, Ohio – Instructors lectured to classrooms peppered with empty seats at an Ohio technical college where graffiti had warned that black students would die Tuesday, as the school president sought to reassure students by camping out in the dorm where the threat was scrawled.
The message led at least two black students to withdraw from school and caused others to move out of the dorm where it was found more than a week ago. Campus police and the FBI have been investigating but haven't identified who was responsible for the threat, written on the wall of a men's bathroom.
President Ron Erickson and his wife moved into the Hocking Heights dorm, where the threat was discovered, over the weekend and remained there Tuesday, school spokeswoman Judy Sinnott said.
Student Alexis Loomis, 20, of Niles, said the couple, with their dog in tow, "seemed to be having a good time."
"It kind of shows the students that he feels that it's safe in there, which I think it is," said Loomis, a third-year student majoring in wilderness horsemanship.
Erickson, who was not made available for comment Tuesday, had pledged better security, police and counselors as the threat loomed over the campus of the two-year college tucked into a forest in the Appalachian foothills of southwestern Ohio. No obvious extra police presence was evident Tuesday, but two State Highway Patrol cruisers sat outside campus police headquarters.
The university planned to kick off a "We Are One Hocking" diversity campaign Tuesday evening with a walk, a candlelight service and a dedication of a peace monument.
Charlotte Brannan, 19, of Lancaster, said she noticed fewer people on campus Tuesday and said about one-third of the students in one of her morning classes were absent.
"There's a lot more parking than usual," added Brannan, a first-year criminal justice student. "Usually every single spot is filled, and it takes you half an hour to find a parking spot. I don't think there's nearly as many people here as there usually is."
Otherwise, she said, the campus didn't seem much different, except for a few people feeling on edge. She said she has a black roommate who went home for the week because she was nervous.
Black students have mentioned previous racial harassment, and several said last week that the threat was a sign of those tensions coming to a head. Brittnay King, a 19-year-old black student, said Tuesday that she knows the two students who left the college but that she never considered doing the same.
"I think it's stupid that they left, because I don't think there's a threat," said King, a first-year early childhood education major from Amesville.
King, who stays at Hocking Heights, said she didn't think having Erickson sleep there would stop any planned violence.
"If they're going to do something, they'd do it with him here or not," she said, adding that the threat was probably written by "immature kids."
"People say stuff all the time," she said.
Loomis said Erickson was "just hanging out with everybody" and watching movies including "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."
"He's been just like a student himself," Loomis said.