A University of Georgia student admitted his social media post threatening violence at a campus building was a prank, police said Friday night. Only it wasn’t funny.
Within hours of a threat that evacuated the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and surrounding areas, the person believed responsible was in custody, UGA police said. Ariel Omar Arias, 19, was arrested and charged with two felony counts of terroristic threats. He was also suspended from the university, according to police. Arias is from Lilburn, according to an online campus directory.
“In an interview with investigators, Arias admitted to disseminating the post in question and indicated that the incident was the result of an immature prank and that he had no motive to follow through with any acts of violence,” UGA police stated late Friday on their Facebook page.
Shortly before noon, several students reported that a violent threat directed at the Miller Learning Center had been made on social media, UGA Police Chief Chief Jimmy Williamson said. The threat was believed credible, and officers were immediately dispatched to the area. The UGA police bomb squad was also dispatched.
“The world we live in, it’s not an innocent prank anymore,” Williamson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Next, a campus-wide alert was sent out that read: “Threat of violence at MLC. Stay away from area until further notice.” Three minutes later, the same message was repeated.
While the Miller Learning Center, which houses a library and classrooms, was evacuated and searched, other officers helped keep students away from the area, near Baxter and South Lumpkin streets. Shortly before 1 p.m., another campus alert was sent informing the community that the investigation continued.
At 1:08 p.m., an “all clear” alert was sent, and the area was deemed safe. But by then, the fear had spread far beyond the campus.
Dozens of frantic parents called the campus police office, Williamson said. But nothing suspicious was found and all students and staff members were safe, he said.
Late Friday afternoon, the investigation focused on who was responsible for the threat. Williamson didn’t elaborate on how the threat was made, but said officers were working to find the culprit.
UGA students sent Twitter messages saying that the threat was posted on the Yik Yak mobile app, which allows users to send comments anonymously.
“If you want to live don’t be at the MLC at 12:15,” the Yik Yak posting purportedly said.
The app, created by two Atlanta friends in November 2013, allows users to send texts containing up to 200 characters, according to its website. Posts can only be read by people in a 1.5-mile radius of the poster.
Although the app’s creators contend it was created as a positive tool, Yik Yak has been linked to numerous scares on high school and college campuses across the country. Even though those posting threats believe they are anonymous, the mobile device used can generally be tracked.
UGA officers used information from cellular service providers to identify the suspect, according to police. Arias was booked into the Clarke County jail Friday night, where he was being held without bond.