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Bomb Threats Target Chicagoland Libraries

A series of bomb threats, later found to be hoaxes, cropped up across the Chicagoland area, and the librarians of Aurora Public Libraries discussed their experience.
Neel Parikh

On a busy morning at the Eola Road Branch Library, library guests were browsing books and staff were conducting programs. At the second-floor reference desk was Flannery Crump, a librarian at the Eola Road branch since 2017. Crump manages the Teen Services section, where she helps young readers find books and learning material. On Sept. 14, her workday was disrupted when she heard an emergency evacuation ordered over the employee intercoms.

         “I didn’t have any other details at that time, so I was pretty worried and confused, but I knew that it wasn’t a drill because we’d conducted a silent fire drill just the week before,” Crump recalled. “Along with the customers and other staff members, I exited the building to congregate at our planned evacuation location on the far end of the parking lot. Once I heard that it was a bomb threat, I was fairly sure that it was an unfounded threat, but it was still nerve-wracking.”

The other two branches of the Aurora Public Libraries also evacuated that morning, for a second time after a false alarm on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Washington Middle School, which is adjoined with the Western branch, also locked down. The library posted on its Facebook page to notify the public of the evacuation and subsequent clearance.

                The librarians, staff and community members waited in the parking lot for about an hour before the police cleared the library for safe reentry at 11:55 a.m. Law enforcement personnel from Aurora, as well as Kane County and Fox Valley, physically searched and found no bomb or other threats. By 12:38 p.m. on Sept. 14, all three locations were cleared. Many of the scheduled programs were still postponed, and employees were told to be hypervigilant.

Photo by Neel Parikh

         Another long-time librarian, Rupangi Bakshi, was also working at the Eola Road Branch on the day of the evacuation. Despite the confusion, she felt prepared thanks to her training.

         “Staying calm, although it is very difficult to do so, follow instructions and staying alert,” Bakshi explained. “The Library has been providing regular training on active shooter, fire drills and emergency evacuations. We also have a manual available for staff reference at all the public service desks. Regular and clear communications have been made by management with all staff regarding the situation. We also have a social worker onsite.”

These periodic drills were emphasized after the bomb threat in the regularly scheduled Staff Training Day on the day after the incident. The bomb threat was sent through a helpdesk chatbox on the Aurora Public Library website, making it difficult to track the sender. The library has temporarily suspended all online forms on its website to prevent false alarms.

Crump described her frustration at the bomb threat causing fear and disrupting the library and community members.

 “It’s incredibly aggravating that someone can ruin so many people’s day with a few strokes on a keyboard. My overall feeling is anger, but I also worry that the next time might not be a false alarm,” Crump described. “I went to high school post-Columbine. I’ve never really felt completely safe at school or other public locations, but it still hits home deeply when you’re reminded just how easily your life can be disrupted.”

Incidents like these compel many schools, colleges and public spaces to institute emergency response training and programs. 

The College of DuPage website has a list of Emergency Response procedures that range from natural disasters and cybersecurity to coordinated violence. Students are also sent periodic safety training modules that remind them to be aware of suspicious activity, to react carefully, and to report any threats to the COD Police Department. The on-campus police force maintains a comprehensive Emergency Operation Plan and period training drills, according to Lt. Kent Munsterman of the COD Police Department.

“These trainings include tabletop exercises in which officers discuss strategies, tactics, and best practices for responding to and managing an incident involving a bomb threat,” Munsterman described. “Several members of the Police Department attended an extensive class on responding to bombing incidents located at New Mexico Tech and offered through the Department of Homeland Security.”

Students at COD recently received emails to complete safety training modules, mostly about interpersonal conflicts and violence. Additionally, COD student employees received the annual student employee training module, which includes an active shooter preparedness course.

“Fortunately, calls involving violence are infrequent,” Munsterman said. “However, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of mental health-related calls and community members experiencing crisis. Many of our officers are certified Crisis Intervention Team officers and are skilled at communicating with and de-escalating individuals who are experiencing crisis.”

Munsterman advises students to always remain calm and follow the instructions of public announcements and text alerts in case of on-campus emergencies. This is not unfounded caution, as the College also experienced a false bomb threat in 2015. The subject was apprehended and criminally charged with making the threat. 

Just as the Aurora Public Libraries evacuated twice, throughout the week of Sept. 11, multiple Chicagoland libraries and public schools were evacuated due to false bomb threats. Earlier in the year, a student was arrested and put in juvenile detention for making false bomb threats against his own school, Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn. Various threats against Glenbard West led to repeated evacuations on April 27 and May 3, 2023. 

These repeated situations with false threats make it difficult for authorities to pinpoint the suspects and determine whether these are coordinated threats or imitations of each other. Munsterman explained that law enforcement does identify general patterns, with these incidents.

“Motives can range from attempting to gain notoriety for causing disruptions, attempting to get out of a test, or acting upon a grievance. Unfortunately, bomb threats are very difficult to prevent,” Munsterman described. “However, while each bomb threat is different, the impact of a bomb threat can often be mitigated by attempting to verify the veracity of the threat, as data suggests that bomb threats are almost always hoaxes.”

The Department of Justice states that up to 90% of bomb threats are hoaxes, in its 2011 report titled “Bomb Threats in Schools.”

As these incidents occur, messages of support are left by community members in the comments under the posts about the bomb threat on the Aurora Library’s Facebook page. People hoped for police to find the perpetrator and discussed connections to other threats made against libraries and schools recently. Some comments point to political motives against public libraries, which Crump referred to based on her experiences working at the library.

Neel Parikh

“It’s impossible to determine the motivation behind these threats, but I’ve heard speculation that whoever is behind it is upset about the new state legislation which discourages book bans at public libraries,” Crump described. “However, if this is their motivation, I don’t think it’s working. To my knowledge, we haven’t received any protests regarding our programs or materials, although a few years ago there was a member of the public who attended a library board meeting to voice their displeasure about the library participating in the city’s annual Pride Parade. Other than that, we’ve been very lucky to avoid most conflicts, and we are fortunate to have the overwhelming support of our community.”

After the clearance of the three Aurora libraries on Sept. 14, the Aurora Illinois Police Department issued a Facebook post that they’re conducting an active investigation and an appeal for tips.

People are encouraged to call the Aurora Police’s Investigations Division at (630) 256-5500 or the Aurora Area Crime Stoppers at (630) 892-1000, who are offering an award up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of felony crime offenders. Anonymous tips about this incident can be entered to

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  • John ChirayilSep 26, 2023 at 10:47 am

    Very interesting read. It’s unfortunate how this is happening right now.