Evergreen evacuates campus due to ‘direct threat,’ will remain closed Friday

Officials at The Evergreen State College in Olympia evacuated the campus late Thursday morning because of a threat, and the campus will remain closed Friday.

“In response to a direct threat to campus safety, the college is closing immediately for the day,” college officials posted on Evergreen’s website. “All are asked to leave campus or return to residence halls for instructions.”

College spokesman Zach Powers told The Olympian that the closure was “out of an abundance of caution ... due to a violent threat against the college received by local law enforcement.”

Powers said the threat was called in late Thursday morning to the business line for Thurston 911 Communications, which dispatches emergency calls in Thurston County. Officials at that agency informed Evergreen Police Services about the threat, and they passed it on to college president George Bridges.

Powers posted to the college’s website at 5:25 p.m. on Thursday evening, to suspend Friday’s classes. His post says college officials were notified around 10:30 a.m. about an individual using an unknown phone number, who claimed to be armed and headed toward Evergreen’s campus.

Powers said students and staff were notified of the original closure on Thursday morning through an emergency alert system that many subscribe to, and intercom messages that were broadcast in buildings, and through social media posts.

“Evergreen police are being supported on site by members of local law enforcement,” Powers said. “There are other (law enforcement) agencies on site as people leave.”

College spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser said Olympia police officers and Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies were assisting in the investigation, which was being led by the nine-person Evergreen police department.

During a news conference at 1 p.m. Thursday at the nearby McLane Fire Department, Kaiser said she didn’t know many details about the nature of the threat.

“It was evaluated to be serious enough that law enforcement thought it was prudent to recommend that we close campus temporarily,” she said.

The evacuation came after weeks of unrest on campus. Hundreds of students protested last week, citing institutional racism and bias on the campus by some of the college’s employees.

When asked whether there was any reason to believe that Thursday’s threat was connected to recent events on campus, Kaiser said: “There’s nothing that I know of that connects these things directly. But, of course, we live in troubled times and you’ve got to take public safety as a priority for everybody.”

Evergreen faculty member Ulrike Krotscheck said she was co-teaching a seminar for the course “Digging up Diseases” when her cellphone and many students’ phones began buzzing with texts about the emergency closure. After that, the announcement came over the loudspeaker. Krotscheck described the evacuation was “really calm and orderly.”

She said she was glad officials made the call to close campus.

“I was feeling all right about it,” she said. “The instructions were really clear and even if it were to find out that this was a false threat, I’m extremely grateful that (officials) treated it seriously.”

Evergreen’s sports information director Nick Dawson said when he arrived on campus about 11 a.m., students were emptying out of their classes in crowds.

He saw a campuswide email that the school was closing when he sat down at his computer and immediately alerted other coworkers, ensured everything was being shut down, and left his building with other faculty members.

“We got out of there in a timely manner,” he said.

Dawson said the parking lot was overrun with students and faculty trying to evacuate all at once, and many cars made use of a field that leads to a service road to exit more faster, but there did not appear to be any panic.

“There was nobody that seemed harried or concerned,” Dawson said. “People were very calm and very collected.”

Zeb Hoffman was one of the students evacuated from campus just after 11 a.m. Hoffman, a senior, said he was in the bookstore trying on graduation gowns when he was alerted about the threat.

“I heard one of the employees of the bookstore tell another student they needed them to leave because they were closing campus, and I followed suit,” Hoffman said.

“I grabbed my stuff, headed toward the (Costantino) Rec Center, and ran into a couple other student athletes. I asked if they knew what was going on, but all they knew was that we were being evacuated and (the school was) being closed.”

Hoffman, 37, walked home and said he heard speculation about the cause of the evacuation, but nothing has been confirmed. He said some students headed toward dormitories while others left campus completely. He agreed with Dawson that there was no disorder.

“I think a lot of people were happy to get to where they thought they were safe,” Hoffman said. “They were following directions.”

Hoffman, a track and field athlete at Evergreen, was in Alabama at the NAIA national championships last week when the protests began, but said he followed along on social media.

“I expected it to continue into this week,” he said.

The college has about 4,000 students and about 800 faculty members and staff members at its Olympia campus, Kaiser said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12

Related stories from The Olympian