Students were evacuated from FAU’s Student Union building after a threat was reported on Tuesday, August 7, 2018.
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic University canceled a graduation ceremony Tuesday afternoon after campus police determined a note left in a bathroom was a “credible threat” against the event.
Officials declined to release the contents of the note.
A staff member found the handwritten Post-It note on a mirror in a women’s bathroom in the business building at 4:15 p.m., threatening the 5 p.m. graduation ceremony, university Police Chief Sean Brammer told a news conference in front of the administration building.
Detectives are reviewing surveillance videos, and Brammer hopes to make an arrest in a matter of days, he said.
The Student Union — where commencement was to have been held — was evacuated, and police were still searching the building for clues into the evening, Brammer said. He declined to characterize the threat or disclose any specifics about its wording.
“I don’t want to hurt the integrity of the investigation by revealing the contents of the note,” Brammer said. “Based on the specifics of the note, we determined that it was a credible and specific threat. That’s why we made the determination to go ahead and cancel our graduation ceremony.”
FAU President John Kelly said he was preparing to leave his office for the graduation when administrations came in “and said there was a concern. We immediately huddled and decided to cancel the graduation ceremony.”
3 ceremonies planned
Two commencement ceremonies were held Tuesday without incident: at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The 5 p.m. ceremony had 462 students scheduled to get their diplomas.
“I feel terrible for our students,” Kelly said. “They were denied an opportunity to go through a ceremony that was a kind of a crowning achievement ceremony in life.
“We will make amends in some way for those students, whether it be other graduation ceremonies or individual things,” Kelly said.
Commencement has not been rescheduled, he said.
Hours after the evacuation was ordered, campus and Boca Raton police still huddled inside the Student Union and in the business building across the street, where the threatening note was found.
About 7:30 p.m., campus police got the all-clear to open the parking lot at the Student Services building.
Elsewhere, though, the campus was quiet after graduating seniors and their families had left.
Finding out about the threat
Earlier, Margaret Brown, of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, said she was on FAU’s campus to see her daughter Elaine Brown graduate at the 1 p.m. ceremony.
“It was a great ceremony and everything seemed fine,” she said Tuesday evening.
She said they were on campus from noon until about 3:30 p.m. and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Elaine Brown, 23, who lives in Boca Raton, said she saw a man arguing with a security guard before they left, but it didn’t alarm her.
“Everything was super normal and went off without a hitch,” she said. “It’s a shame for all the people who came here from out of town and have this happen.”
Elaine Brown received a bachelor’s of science degree from the College of Business during the midday event.
After she left campus, she said, the university sent a text and automatic phone call saying the 5 p.m. ceremony was canceled due to a “credible threat,” and the student union was being evacuated.
She received a second FAU text after 6 p.m.
Belinda Sharp, of Port St. Lucie, said she was early for the 5 p.m. ceremony, where her 22-year-old daughter, Tiffanie McCafferty, was graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“We got down there around quarter to 4 because she had to be in line,” Sharp said.
Sharp said her daughter had to be in a separate building attached to the auditorium. Sharp went into the auditorium, and about 4:45 p.m. they were asked to “quietly and quickly” leave.
She said the auditorium was filling up and they didn’t know what was going on. She said there was some confusion.
She said as they got out of the auditorium they were told to go further and further away.
They saw Boca Raton and FAU police and realized something large was going on, she said.
She called her daughter to make sure she was OK. Sharp said McCafferty eventually called her back and said they were being told there was a threat.
Sharp said the situation was confusing, with some taking it seriously and others being more blasé.
“It’s disappointing,” Sharp said. “It’s a culmination of all the work you’ve done.”
McCafferty, said she was with more than 100 other students, and that four colleges were graduating.
She said someone asked one of the officials what was happening. They were thinking it was time to enter the auditorium, and were told there was just a short delay. They then said that the auditorium was being evacuated because of a bomb threat.
Then they were told graduation was canceled.
“The communication was a little off,” McCafferty said. “They just said graduation was canceled, you guys can leave.”
She said they made their way around the campus and connected with parents.
“Personally I had a few mixed emotions,” McCafferty said. “I wasn’t really scared … I knew that the cops were there, they were containing it.”
McCafferty said she was more disappointed in not being able to walk across the stage.
“People were just mostly frustrated and upset that it wasn’t happening,” McCafferty said.
She said FAU officials are supposed to contact her Wednesday to update her on graduation plans.
Dana Morgado, a psychology student from Fort Lauderdale was taking pictures in front of the campus in her cap and gown two hours after she was supposed to walk the stage.
By this point, the campus was nearly empty, save for local authorities taking down barriers in front of the student services parking lot, and the last few students and families trickling out of the premises at dusk.
Morgado and her classmates were in the auditorium for about 45 minutes before it was announced graduation was canceled, she said. There was no panic, she said.
“People were very, very upset,” Morgado said.
While Morgado didn’t have friends and family from out of town visiting for the ceremony, she empathized with those who traveled only to miss out on graduation.
“I understand it’s good for security,” she said, “But it sucks.”
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