Campus letter threat worries some students

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2013

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A police plea for the name of the writer of a letter threatening to unload an automatic assault rifle in Canterbury University's library has been turned down by the institution's students association.

The letter, written anonymously and published in the students association's magazine Canta on March 20, lists a series of gripes the author has about university life, including people who ride bikes on the footpath and students who wear camouflage.

It then reads: "The above things are slowly transforming me from a Gandhi-like character to the kind of guy who is going to walk into James Hight [the library] one day with a fully loaded automatic assault rifle and unload my anger into you."

The letter has also featured on the magazine's website since March 20, but only came to the university's attention when a student's mother complained about it on Friday.

University Vice-Chancellor Rod Carr said he only became aware of it yesterday and referred the matter to police.

"This is a person who needs help," he said.

Police university liaison officer Senior Constable Ken Carter said it did not appear any criminal offence had been committed and there was no indication of an immediate or direct threat. But he said such comments were a concern and he could understand how people were anxious about the letter, especially since incidents like the Boston bombings.

Despite police asking for the individual's name, Carter said, the University of Canterbury Students Association (UCSA) had declined to release it on privacy grounds. Since no offence had been committed, police were unable to seek a warrant to force the release of the name.

"We are looking at other options for getting in touch with this person," Carter said. "We would like to speak with them, and hopefully satisfy ourselves that there is no need for concern. If they would like to come forward and contact us, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the letter and the concerns it raises."

Canta editor Hannah Herchenbach would not comment and forwarded all queries to UCSA president Erin Jackson.

Jackson did not respond to questions about why UCSA would not release the name to police. But she did say the last paragraph contained content that "could be interpreted to look like a non-specific threat", but the "tone of the letter was largely hyperbolic".

She said given the tenor of the letter, and UCSA's previous dealings with and knowledge of the author, it was assessed there was no serious threat.

"We are a student magazine that presents the views of all students. Sometimes these views are unpalatable or even offensive to the majority."

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UCSA removed the last paragraph in the letter late yesterday morning given the "heightened awareness of safety in the public mind", she said.

The woman who complained about the letter said yesterday her daughter was scared to go to university after reading it.

"That kind of thing is not funny. It's a wee bit like making a stupid comment at the airport about having a bomb in your luggage.

"It was not just an offhand comment."

Carr said Canta was an independent campus publication and was not censored by the university.

He did not intend to increase security across the campus.

- The Press

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