3-21-13 Student in custody after college bomb scare

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A Salem International University student who tried to get creative by using a fake bomb in a class presentation Tuesday was charged with a misdemeanor after authorities said his theatrics terrified students, prompted 911 calls and disrupted the small-town campus.

Joshua John Richards, 33, of Clarksburg, is facing a misdemeanor charge of manufacturing and possessing a hoax bomb — in this case, a ticking black box with a blinking green light, said Harrison County Prosecutor Joe Shaffer. That’s a misdemeanor punishable by six months to a year behind bars and a fine of up to $5,000.

Shaffer said he will also seek “thousands of dollars” in restitution for the cost of the massive emergency response, which involved fire and police departments, 16 sheriff’s deputies, four emergency services teams and a bomb squad.

School officials didn’t immediately respond to repeated phone calls about the incident, but Shaffer said it appears to be a case of creativity gone awry.

“He was trying to be artsy, I guess,” Shaffer said. “You can get away with that in acting class, but it didn’t work here.”

Though the incident occurred in an English classroom, 22-year-old classmate Stephanie Morgan said the course was actually Principles of Human Communication, which requires students to give weekly speeches. This week’s topic was persuasion, she told The Associated Press in a series of emails.

As the instructor told the class to take a break, Richards stood up and instructed his classmates to sit down and put their hands and cell phones on their desk. He rambled on about “crazy stuff,” she said, and people weren’t sure whether he was acting or serious. After a while, someone asked if he was kidding.

“And he replies, `Does it look like I’m kidding?”’ the nursing student who enrolled last fall recounted.

Richards said he needed help, and students began talking to him in an effort to calm him. They asked about his daughter, and another student told Richards she would like to go home to her own children.

“As the conversation goes on,” Morgan said, “a student says, `If you’re kidding, now would be a good time to tell us.’ He still goes on as if he is being serious.”

Even the instructor seemed to believe the threat was real, Morgan said, asking Richards how she could help. Only when students began crying and “freaking out,” she said, did Richards turn off the device and say it wasn’t real.

Morgan said she fled the campus, hysterical and fearing for her life, before police arrived.

“He was a very nice person, very liked by the whole class,” she said. “I don’t understand why he would think that it would be OK to bring a fake bomb to a college during this day and age. This is not something to joke about; there are too many school shootings and threats that have happened in our society today.

“Sitting in that classroom while a man is `pretending’ to hold a bomb is not something you want to be involved in,” she added. “It makes you look at life completely different.”

Shaffer said that when Richards realized how badly he had scared his classmates, he went to his car and awaited the arrival of authorities, obviously frightened himself.

Richards will be arraigned later in magistrate court.

Salem International is a small private school that sits on a 100-acre campus in north-central West Virginia. It was founded as Salem College in 1888 by the Seventh Day Baptist Church. In the early 1990s it merged with Japan’s Teikyo University and became Salem-Teikyo University but was later sold to a private investment group and renamed Salem International University. It is currently a private for-profit institution.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission says 811 students are currently enrolled.

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