A man from Anchorage, Alaska, was charged over the break with perpetrating last May’s bomb threat against campus. Gavin Lee Casdorph, going by Jafar Saleem on Twitter, was arrested in December for propagating the false bomb threats. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), along with President Alison Byerly, held a press conference on Dec. 19 to release the new details from the case after Casdorph was taken into custody.
The threats, which were disseminated via Twitter, email, and an online text storage site called Pastebin, claimed that explosive devices had been placed across campus in order to “inflict the utmost possible damage.” Casdorph, who falsely said he was a Lafayette student who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS, also claimed to have access to multiple firearms.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office, Casdorph was 30 years old at the time of the threats, though Lehigh Valley Live and the Morning Call have both reported his age as 20. He was arrested on Dec. 12, and, if convicted, will face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
Though the threats were deemed not credible after a room-by-room search of the campus following initial posts and emails, the unsurety of the situation and initial non-disclosure by the college created additional anxiety in the student body. Many students initiated a self-imposed lockdown in their dorms, while others even fled campus to stay in nearby homes.
“School officials took the threat seriously, reported the the threat immediately, and took several steps to ensure the safety of its students, including moving the location of the graduation,” said U.S. attorney William M. McSwain during the press conference. “No parent, no student, no school official knew that [the bomb threats were not credible] on May 5.”
McSwain was accompanied by Special Agent Steven McQueen and President Byerly at the press conference. Also in attendance were Public Safety Director Jeff Troxell and police Chief Jim Meyer. Public Safety worked closely with the FBI during the investigation leading up to the Casdorph’s apprehension, though it was local Alaskan FBI agents who made the arrest.
“It feels good that we caught the individual, we worked with a lot of agencies and put in a lot of time,” Troxell said. “It was good to get this person off the streets.”
“This is a great example of law enforcement and school officials working together to keep the community safe,” McSwain said.
Prosecutors for the case have requested that Casdorph be held without bail while he awaits his trial because of his history of violence. According to the Morning Call, Casdorph confessed to the FBI that, prior to perpetrating the bomb threats at Lafayette, he had traveled to Ottawa, Canada, with intentions to murder the ex-girlfriend of his online friend, David Bukoski, along with her then-boyfriend. Though he did not murder either of his intended targets, Casdorph confessed to firebombing one of their cars using propane and gasoline. He also admitted to making online threats to Carleton University, also in Ottawa.
According to the FBI, Casdorph used a Russian website to create a Twitter account under the name of an unidentified Lafayette student, using a fake number to mask his personal identity. He then followed several people in the Lafayette area to add to the ruse. Casdorph also created a Yahoo email account, which he later used to email threats to the college, and used a Tor client, a web browser which would prevent any activity from being traced to his computer, to hide his identity. Officials would not disclose who specifically received the email at the school, though Byerly noted that she was not among the recipients.
After creating the Twitter account in the unidentified Lafayette student’s name, Casdorph created the account responsible for posting the threats under the now infamous Twitter handle @BdanJafarSaleem. In an apparent attempt to frame the Lafayette student, whom the FBI have referred to as “Person 2,” Casdorph used the same fake phone number he used to create the original Twitter account to create the Saleem account and post the threats.
The FBI were able to trace the fake phone number provided by the Russian company back to Casdorph, eventually leading to Casdorph’s arrest in Anchorage.
“The investigation is still continuing. They’re still looking at additional issues, but they feel they have the primary perpetrator,” Byerly said.
The conflict began during a game of Counter-Strike, a popular online multiplayer first-person shooter game. Casdorph, along with the unidentified Lafayette student, were using Discord, a chat application used to communicate with other gamers. The student told investigators that he had been involved in an argument with another gamer known online as Neuroscientist.
Following the threat incident, another gamer disclosed to the Lafayette student that Casdorph, then known only as “Gavin,” had been involved in the threats. Casdorph later admitted to the FBI that Neuroscientist had encouraged him to make the threats against Lafayette after the argument between the Lafayette student and Neuroscientist.
Officials would not comment on whether the involved student is still attending Lafayette.
“I don’t think [the student’s] name will ever be released,” Troxell said.
“We have been in touch with [the student] and would like to think we have been supportive,” added Byerly.
According to Byerly, the bomb threat motivated the college to review the way “it communicates incidents on campus.” Partially in response to the bomb threat, the school launched OnePard in November. OnePard is a tool that allows students to report concerns they have about themselves, other students or campus events. It also provides a list of resources for students regarding mental health, hazing, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault.
“One Pard was something we were already working on [before the threat was made] but things converged that made us feel…an urgent need to consolidate our reporting systems [after the threat],” Byerly said.
During the press conference, Byerly noted the college’s commitment to updating their emergency and communication policies in response to the bomb threat incident.
“Our community learned a lot from the experience,” Byerly said. “One of the things that we’ve done is review all of our communication and emergency planning protocols to make sure that we always do the best job that we can keeping the community informed.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety and well being of our students, faculty and staff,” she added.