LEWISTON – When Lewiston-Auburn College student Cathy Gilles showed up for class Monday, she was greeted with a “do not enter” sign blocking the parking lot. The building was empty. The college dean and other administrators were standing in the sunshine across the street.
Three bomb threats made to the University of Southern Maine in Portland Monday prompted officials to evacuate campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston, and clear dorms in Gorham and Portland.
The threats were called to Portland between 9:15 to 9:30 a.m. “Each referenced that there were two bombs at USM,” said Bob Caswell of the USM Public Affairs Office. The fact that there were three calls, and the calls did not specify where the bombs were, prompted officials to take the threats seriously.
By 3:30 p.m. after searches by bomb-sniffing dogs, all USM buildings in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston were cleared. Classes resumed at 4 p.m.
Initially only buildings in Portland and Gorham were evacuated. Soon classes were also dismissed in Lewiston. After administrators called the Lewiston college telling it to close, Dean Zark Van Zandt notified faculty. Facilities manager Randy Estes and an emergency response team went room to room telling everyone to leave.
Knocking on doors is better than pulling a fire alarm, he said. “If you pull a fire alarm the fire department shows up. We’re a school so they send eight trucks. During a bomb threat you want people to leave.”
By 11:30, the Lewiston Police Department Critical Incident Response Unit, a large truck, arrived. At 12:30, dogs from the Brunswick Naval bomb squad began searching the building.
With graduation, finals and the close of the semester a month away, it’s an important time for students and professors, said Van Zandt.
As he spoke a handful of students and professors arrived, wondering why the building was blocked. Among them was Gilles of Auburn, arriving for her physics class.
She wasn’t happy to find out there was no class Monday. Before attending the L-A College, she attended the Central Maine Community College. While there there were two bomb threats, Gilles said. “It’s just a hassle.”
Monday’s bomb threat was the third the Lewiston college has had since it opened in 1988, Estes estimated. Bomb threats are less common at colleges than high schools. Caswell said he has noticed that most happen on sunny, spring days.