A week-long spree of bogus bomb threats at America’s top universities appears to be related to an online harassment campaign against a young woman.
Last Friday, Yale University evacuated students and staff, after an unknown person called the college and claimed to have placed 40 bombs around the campus. Similar bomb threats prompted evacuations at Cornell, Columbia, and Brown universities last weekend, followed by renewed threats on Thursday against New York University, University of Southern California, Cleveland State University, University of Chicago, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some of those evacuations happened shortly after a series of Twitter accounts tweeted bomb threats at the schools.
All of the accounts, which appear newly created, attempted to accuse or implicate a young woman in the bombings, at one point threatening to place more threats if she did not contact them.
“This guy won’t leave me alone,” the woman, who goes by Jia online, tweeted last weekend before deleting her account. “I have tried to negotiate with him to stop but he refuses to unless I date him.”
None of the bomb threats materialized any explosive devices, police and campus officials at the targeted universities have announced. Last weekend’s threats at Columbia University were part of a “swatting prank,” the New York City Police Department told the New York Post.
Swatting refers to a tactic of making false threats in another person’s name, in the hopes of blaming them for an attack or sending a police SWAT team after them: an illegal tactic that has previously resulted in deaths.
Police have not announced a suspect in the hoaxes, or whether the same person is responsible for all the threats. But multiple threats against different schools appeared to have similarities. The person who called in the first bomb threat at Yale reportedly claimed to have left 40 bombs on campus. Two days later, a Twitter-based bomb threat at Columbia used similar language.
“@Columbia Hello My partner and I [a woman named Jia’s Twitter account] have placed 40 IED explosives on your campus inside of the butler hall, Carman hall, Lerner hall along the bookstore we have also placed motion detected ANFO bomb’s with PVC pipes to kill anyone on the college walk,” a newly created (and now suspended) Twitter account claimed.
“We are both armed with AR-15’s with drum magazines and Glock 10 pistols with switches attached to them to make them fully automatic pistols we are inside of the Faculty House. If any police approach us we will detonate all explosives and be firing at any law enforcement.”
Glock 10 pistols don’t exist—and the name of the hoaxer appeared fake, too. The account, created this month, purported to be a woman named Jia. It also tagged the genuine account of a woman of the same name, and claimed she was a “partner” in the attack. The tweet was one of several this month targeting that woman. (The Daily Beast reached out to her for comment on Instagram, but did not hear back.)
Another newly created account made similar allegations of the real Jia. In a tweeted bomb threat at Chicago University, another new Twitter account claimed that “my girlfriend and I, Jia [last name], have placed IEDs across the UChicago campus-- three bombs in Swift Hall, two in Logan Hall, five in the main quad, four in the court theatre, and seven in the Harper Memorial Library. @UChicago.”
The University of Chicago Twitter threat appeared Tuesday, the same day the university was evacuated for a bomb scare.
A Twitter user appears to have threatened Jia with bomb hoaxes three days before they began. In a Nov. 2 tweet, first flagged by a Columbia student, a Twitter user tweeted at Jia, telling her to “DM me in the next 3 hours or I’m sending a bomb threat to every school in California through SMTP w ur info.”
Although that tweet has been deleted, still-live tweets from the account show the person repeatedly tweeting what appears to be a screenshot of a “hitlist” to Jia on Nov. 2. “The IRL harassment can go on until you listen mums life,” the person tweeted at her.
Before deleting her account sometime this week, Jia tweeted a volley of replies to people who were beginning to connect her name with the bomb threats.
“Hello. I’m the person who was tagged in the post where the bomb threat was made,” she tweeted at a person who connected her to the Columbia bomb threat. “The guy behind the [the fake Jia] account was impersonating as me and has been trying to impersonate as me as of recently to get my attention.”
She characterized the hoaxer as a man named Ryan who became obsessed with her online. “I’m just a minecraft girl that this sicko fell in love with after 2 days of speaking LOL”
She went on to state that her harasser lives “across the country. This guy has nothing to do with me [...] This whole situation overall is sick” and that she was compiling information to send to the FBI.
Before deleting her account, she shared a screenshot on Sunday of what she said was an email from her cyber stalker. The person described himself as having been under “the influence of a lot of cocaine and alcohol on a constant rush. I really didn’t think about anything I did and if you’re mad that’s ok.
“since I pretty much know you’re going to snake this I’ll say hello I guess I don’t want to beef anymore and would rather just talk it out. I apologize for everything I did though. If you want to end whatever beef is going on between you and apophis squad [a SWATing group] message me on insta.”
More bomb threats, their sources unknown, continued at universities on Thursday. It was unclear whether they were copycat incidents, or came from the same attacker.