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Missouri university online threats heighten racial tensions, result in arrest

University of Missouri police said Wednesday they have arrested a suspect accused of making online threats against black students and faculty, after racial tensions on campus resulted in the departure of two senior university officials.
University of Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler, second from right, speaks following the announcement Monday that University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe would resign in Columbia, Mo. (Sarah Bell/Missourian/Associated Press)

University of Missouri police said Wednesday they have arrested a suspect accused of making online threats against black students and faculty, after racial tensions on campus resulted in the departure of two senior university officials.

Police identified the man arrested as 19-year-old Hunter M. Park. He is being held on a preliminary charge of suspicion of making a terrorist threat and hasn't been formally charged. His bond is $4,500 US.

Park was arrested at 1:50 a.m. Wednesday by university police in Rolla, Mo., and taken the 151 kilometres to Columbia, Mo. Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla confirmed that Park is a student there. He was arrested at a residence hall on the Rolla campus. The school says no weapons were found

The online posts on the anonymous location-based messaging app YikYak and other social media Tuesday threatened to "shoot every black person I see."

Police said the suspect was not on or near campus when the threat was made.

A university spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for further comment, but the school's online emergency information centre tweeted, "There is no immediate threat to campus."

It has been a tumultuous week for the flagship campus of the University of Missouri system.

Protests and strikes

The student government president reported in September that people shouted racial slurs at him from a passing pickup truck, galvanizing the protest movement. A graduate student went on hunger strike to demand the resignation of university system president Tim Wolfe over his handling of racial complaints, and more than 30 members of the Missouri football team went on strike in his support.

Wolfe resigned Monday. Hours later, the top administrator of the Columbia campus, chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, was forced out.

David Wallace, a spokesman for the student government group Missouri Students Association, said the group asked university officials to cancel classes Wednesday in light of the threats.

"It's really disheartening and proves the point of why these protests and boycotts were necessary," Gaby Rodriguez, a senior, said.

Some students, faculty and alumni have said the protests and top leaders' resignations are the culmination of years of racial tension. The university has promised changes.

Chuck Henson, a black law professor and associate dean, was appointed Tuesday as the university's first-ever interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.

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