By Laura Blenkinsop
A Ryerson administrator received a death threat laced with pink powder in a letter sent to her 12th floor office in Jorgenson Hall last Wednesday.
The powder turned out to be a harmless wheat product and no one was injured, but both emergency response officials and the school won’t rule out the letter as a prank.
“There was a definite threat, there was no mistaking that,” said Brian Bertram, the Hazardous Materials (Haz Mat) Captain who responded to the call.
“It’s a form of terrorism,” he said. “It’s domestic terrorism on a smaller scale.”
No one would reveal the identity of the administrator who was threatened.
Police suspect a male Ryerson student is behind the threat. Ryerson President Sheldon Levy believes there is more to it than just a “disappointment with the university.”
“This is a threat to an individual and deliberate to scare them,” he said. “One shouldn’t put a beef with the university in this catagory at all.”
Ryerson security called 911 at 12:32 p.m. after the letter was reported. When fire, police, ambulance and the Haz Mat Unit arrived, they had quarantined the administrator and evacuated the 12th floor. The lobby was later evacuated and locked.
“I work on the 12th floor and they evacuated the 12th floor and they just asked us to come out here,” said Heather Lane Vetere, vice provost students who at the time was not aware of the letter. “The only folks who are in there now are security and city police.”
Bertram said the powder only posed a threat to its immediate surroundings. “At the time we had no belief that it [Jorgenson Hall] needed further evacuation,” he said. “It’s very disruptive to shut down a whole building.”
According to Ryerson security, the building’s HVAC system was also not shut down.
Levy said that the university does not have a policy specifically for suspicious powder scares. “We have a very clear policy that comes into effect any time there’s a threat or any time there would be any type of scare whether it’s a bag left in a hall or whether it’s a powderm,” he said.
He said following the set procedures takes importance over assessing the potential danger of the powder.
Bertram said his unit was at the scene for approximately three hours. His team needs time to analyse the situation and decide which protective equipment to wear and the arsenal of instruments that should be used. “It’s not like a regular house fire, you don’t rush in,” he said.
To make sure that the powder had not contaminated the air, his team used a military instrument, called a chemical agent monitor, that detects toxins, nerve agents and blister agents.
The letter was then double bagged and sent to a lab where the powder was found to be harmless.
“We may have had threatening letters in the past but I don’t recall any that was accompanied by a suspicious powder,” Levy said.
“You get different threats in writing, you get the famous phone call at exam time that there’s going to be a bomb in this place or that. So Ryerson it not immune as a large community from activities that are either threatening to the university or to an individual,” he said.
—with files from Shannon Higgins