A student at SUNY Canton posted a threatening anonymous message on the popular social media app Yik Yak on Thursday October 23rd. While the original message was deleted rapidly, local news sources said that the message was, “to all SUNY Canton students, if you value your life do not go to class tomorrow, I plan on killing myself but before that I plan taking as many of you worthless piles of crap, be ready.”
The administration responded to the first threat by assuring students that there was no evidence the threat was credible, and said that classes and activities would continue as planned.
Around noon on Thursday, a second threatening message was posted, which prompted the administration and security of SUNY Canton to issue a campus wide lockdown. Students took shelter in dorms and commuter students were escorted off campus by security. Campus security and local police worked together to thoroughly sweep all buildings and facilities on campus. By 7:20 pm, with no imminent threat or danger present, the lockdown was lifted.
On the St. Lawrence campus, members of the community were notified of the situation through the NY Alert system, which sent a message informing the community of the threat. Many St Lawrence students with the Yik Yak app also watched the events unfold in real time through the posts and updates of SUNY Canton students. Throughout the day frequent updates through email and the St. Lawrence website assured that those on campus stayed informed about the situation.
In the aftermath of the incident, Patrick Gagnon, Director of Campus Safety and Security, outlined how St. Lawrence would have responded if the situation happened on our campus. In the event of a threat to the St. Lawrence community, the NY Alert System would be used and the police would be informed immediately, much in the same manner that the SUNY Canton administration handled the situation.
The anonymous nature of Yik Yak meant that the identity of the individual who made the threat was unknown. The Department of Homeland Security in collaboration with local authorities and the University Police handled the investigation into figuring out the individual’s identity. Authorities worked closely with the app developers to trace the individual’s identity. On October 25th, Alexis Vazquez, a sophomore from Brooklyn, NY was charged in relation to the threats made on Yik Yak. The specific federal charge he faces, is “Transmitting a threat to injure another person.” Local news sources reported that if he is convicted, he faces up to five years in federal prison.
The threat to SUNY Canton prompted members of the St. Lawrence community to rally behind them by offering messages of support and sharing in the relief as the situation was resolved peacefully without violence.