Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bomb Scares Leave Scars at Florida A&M University: Two Explosions, Deemed Hate-Related, Have Rocked This Historically Black Campus and Spurred Debates over Greater Security Measures

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bomb Scares Leave Scars at Florida A&M University: Two Explosions, Deemed Hate-Related, Have Rocked This Historically Black Campus and Spurred Debates over Greater Security Measures

Article excerpt

Bomb Scares Leave Scars at Florida A&M University: Two Explosions, Deemed Hate-Related, Have Rocked This Historically Black Campus and Spurred Debates Over Greater Security Measures

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Authorities charged an unemployed 41-year-old White man earlier this month with planting two small bombs on the Florida A&M University campus, casting a pall of fear and igniting a debate over security.

The two bombs rocked the campus detonated within a few weeks of each other in what authorities characterized as acts of racial hatred because they were accompanied by telephone calls laced with expletives about African Americans.

Lawrence M. Lombardi, an unemployed, married father of two, was arrested and being held without bail here on two counts of making bombs. Prosecutors say the charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Under Florida law, that could be upped to life if the crimes are found to motivated by hatred of African Americans. Lombardi's attorney, R. Tim Jansen, says authorities have the wrong man. "He's absolutely innocent," Jansen says.

But authorities were confident they had their man. Florida A&M "does not face the threat that it did yesterday," U.S. Attorney Michael Patterson said shortly after Lombardi's arrest was announced.

The former vending company employee had easy access to campus: it was on his route and he had been issued a university identification card, authorities say. He serviced machines in the two buildings where bombs were detonated, they say.

A former coworker told investigators that Lombardi did not surrender the ID card when he left the company in July. Another told investigators that Lombardi had talked about finding bomb-making instructions on the Internet.

In all, three former co-workers identified Lombardi from a store surveillance tape and recognized his voice on a recording of the threatening phone calls that were made to a local television station here after each of the bombings.

FBI officials say that they matched bomb fragments with an uncommon type of heavy-duty PVC pipe that Lombardi bought at a home improvement store the day before the first explosion at the historically Black campus.

"The vending company employee described Lombardi as having no personality and as an individual who did not like Blacks and has used the `N' word," FBI investigators wrote in an affidavit filed in connection with the case.

In the wake of the bombings, college officials moved quickly to heighten security in hopes of allaying student and faculty fears here at Florida's only predominately Black public university: setting up checkpoints, installing security cameras and adding dozens more patrol officers.

But even those measures brought backlash on the nerve-frayed campus where some students have demanded tighter security, others cautioned against it and everyone was being asked to present their identification cards in order to gain entry.

"We have to be careful what we ask for," says Kristen Tucker, a graduate student and former student body president. "Blacks and police have never really gotten along very well. I don't want people with a surveillance camera on me all the time."

"I'm not here to come to school in a state of fear," a shaken and teary-eyed Zelna Heriscar, a freshman student from south Florida, said shortly after the second bomb exploded. "Why would someone want to hurt us?"

That's what a team of federal, state and local law enforcement officials assembled to patrol the campus and investigate the bombings had hoped to uncover 3/4 and quickly. They said that $60,000 amassed as a reward may help.

In both blasts, an unidentified man called the local ABC television affiliate here to claim credit for the bombings. Each time, station officials say, he laced his comments with profanity and racial slurs.

The first bomb exploded early afternoon on Aug. 31, the second day of classes. …

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