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Police arrest student for U-M Rolla bomb scare

University of Missouri at Rolla graduate student Sujithkumar Venkatramolla was arrested Tuesday.
University of Missouri at Rolla graduate student Sujithkumar Venkatramolla was arrested Tuesday.

By Associated Press / KWMU

Rolla, MO – What at first looked like a potential case of terrorism at the University of Missouri-Rolla turned out to be a despondent international student making bogus threats, authorities said.

Still, those threats threw this south-central Missouri town into a brief panic Tuesday. Charges were expected to be filed against the student early Wednesday, Phelps County prosecutor Courtney George said.

"Thankfully, this is a false alarm," chancellor John F. Carney III said.

Authorities say graduate student Sujithkumar Venkatramolla was apparently depressed over grades when he walked into the Butler-Carlton Civil Engineering Building early Tuesday morning. He was waving a paper bag and holding a knife, saying he had a bomb and anthrax, interim Police Chief Mark Kearse said.

When the man refused to drop the knife, a university officer shot him with a stun gun.

A white, powdery substance was found on the man and near a desk in a room in the civil engineering building. But preliminary tests showed the substance was nothing more than powdered sugar, said Lt. Col. David Boyle of the Missouri National Guard's 7th Civil Support Team at Fort Leonard Wood. Extensive searches found no trace of any explosives.

The substance was sent to a lab for further testing. "We personally expect those to come back with similar results," Boyle said.

The civil engineering building is open 24 hours a day. Authorities said it was not uncommon for students and faculty to be there in the wee hours of the morning studying or working in labs.

Twenty-three people who were either in the building or came into contact with the suspect were immediately quarantined in a nearby physics building. By mid-afternoon, all 23 eight students, a faculty member and emergency workers who responded to the call were allowed to leave. None underwent decontamination procedures because they never showed signs of illness and believed from the outset the powder was not dangerous, authorities said.

The suspect was taken to Phelps County Regional Medical Center for decontamination before being taken to a holding facility at the Rolla Police Department, Kearse said.

The 5,850-student technological research and engineering campus was shut down for the day. A Catholic grade school near campus also was closed.

Campus spokeswoman Mary Helen Stoltz said classes would resume Wednesday.

Police found a four-page note in which the student threatened to destroy the building, Kearse said. He declined to discuss other details of the note.

The suspect lived in an off-campus apartment and authorities interviewed his roommate, Mayor Bill Jenks said, although he would not provide details. He said no one else would be charged.

Maxwell Klein, 20, a sophomore engineering student from St. Charles, said class work at the university can be difficult. Still, he couldn't understand how a student could apparently go so far over the edge.

"There's a lot of pressure and it can be stressful you'll have times where you'll have multiple tests in one day or one week," Klein said. "But to have something like this happen is hard to believe."