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UIC student’s online threat linked to Laquan McDonald shooting

A University of Illinois at Chicago student threatened online to shoot 16 individuals at the University of Chicago — one for each time Laquan McDonald was shot — which resulted in U. of C. classes being cancelled Monday.

But when investigators searched the off-campus residence of the UIC student, no gun was found, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

The UIC student has been arrested, and charges are pending, the FBI said.

“We are monitoring this situation closely and are concerned about the impact this has had on our campus and the University of Chicago,” UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said in a statement.

The shooting of the 17-year-old McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke — and the release of the video of the shooting last week — has sparked protests and anger throughout Chicago.

Earlier Monday morning, except for campus police and other security personnel in blue coats stationed on nearly every block, the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus was desolate as authorities remained on high alert because of an online threat of gun violence against the school that specifically mentioned targeting the campus quad Monday morning at 10 a.m.

But as police kept watch in the quad, 10 a.m. came and went without incident.

In an update posted online at 10:23, the university said it “continues to be in regular contact with both federal and local authorities. As we indicated yesterday, classes are canceled and faculty and staff are advised to remain off campus. We have an increased security presence on campus today. We will provide a further update as more information becomes available.”

University officials had canceled all Monday classes and activities on campus after receiving an alert from the FBI over the weekend.

“You have to be truly unhinged to say you’re going to show up at 10 a.m. with guns,” said Grace Tsiang, a U of C economics professor who was out for a walk near the quadrangle with her dog, Cora.

“I don’t think that one should just change one’s entire life because of the small probability this is,” Tsiang said, before interrupting herself. “You know, there’s danger in the world all the time.”

“On the other hand, I totally see what the president’s decision, you have to safeguard the whole community.”

“For me, I myself would not tell all my students to show up, but I have to just keep going on with life as normal,” Tsiang said.

Despite the rumored threat, Grace Tsiang, a U of C economics professor, went for her usual walk near the quadrangle with her dog, Cora. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A student grabbing coffee at a Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn said her classmates were heeding warnings to stay home.

“I’m not going to go run across campus or anything,” said the student, who did not want to provide her name.

“I’m only here because I was dropping off my boyfriend at the airport and I’m out of coffee,” she said.

Finals start next week, and many students, she expected, would use the time off to jumpstart their studies.

“I think they acted properly,” she said of the school shutdown, noting the unfortunate frequency of mass shootings that occur with no warning.

Business at Starbucks was slow, and other coffee shops — that would typically be buzzing on a Monday morning after a long holiday weekend — were nearly empty.

“Everyone’s sleeping in,” said Brandon Bradberry, who works at Z & H cafe just two blocks from campus.

In announcing the shutdown Sunday night, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer wrote that the university “will have an increased police and security presence on and around campus, including police personnel with visible weapons and other additional measures.”

“University security personnel are keeping in close contact with the FBI, which is continuing to investigate the threat,” Zimmer wrote.

Responding to a request for comment from the Chicago Sun-Times, FBI Special Agent John Hyde wrote in a statement: “Upon learning of a possible threat, we shared information with law enforcement and University officials, as is our practice. The decision to cancel classes was made by the University. Our investigation to determine the source of the online threat is ongoing.”

FBI counterterrorism officials alerted the school Sunday that “an unknown individual posted an online threat of gun violence against the University of Chicago, specifically mentioning “the campus quad’ on Monday morning at 10 a.m.,” according to the statement.

Zimmer wrote that the university canceled classes “based on the FBI’s assessment of this threat and recent tragic events at other campuses across the country.”

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the university libraries, the Quadrangle Club and other campus facilities will also be closed Monday. The University of Chicago Medical Center will remain open to patients with added security measures, Zimmer wrote. Students were told to consult csl.uchicago.edu for additional information.

“All University staff and faculty members who do not have emergency duties or patient care responsibilities are encouraged to avoid coming to the Hyde Park campus on Monday,” Zimmer wrote.

Anyone who sees anything unusual or who “have urgent questions about security measures” were asked to contact the University of Chicago Police Department at 773-702-8181.

Contributing: Jon Seidel