Fresno State news conference on student social media threat
The online threat of deadly gunfire that rocked Fresno State on Monday was a case of a young man making a bad decision and not a serious plan, university officials said Tuesday afternoon.
However, authorities will continue to pursue criminal charges against Christian Malik Pryor, a now-former Fresno State football player who allegedly posted on the messaging app Yik Yak that he would use a weapon to “release my frustrations” at 3 p.m. Monday.
“There’s no joke that’s funny about killing people,” university police Chief David Huerta said at a news conference. “There’s no mistake about it when you write it down. It was an intentional and designed act. It caused terror on this campus.”
Pryor, 18, was arrested Monday afternoon. Pryor was released to his family after posting $20,000 bail and is now back home in Los Angeles, Huerta said.
On Fresno State’s main Twitter account, it was announced late Tuesday morning that Pryor was banned from campus and had been dismissed from the football team.
The first report of the threat came in around noon Monday. Huerta said a concerned student and the university’s social media monitoring staff reported it to police within about 10 minutes of the original Yik Yak post.
At 1:12 p.m. Monday, a Twitter account believed to be Pryor’s replied to someone tweeting out a screenshot of the Yik Yak threat. He allegedly told two other accounts, including one belonging to Bulldogs punter Blake Cusick, “it sounds like a joke but be safe.”
The university used its Bulldog Alert notification program to send warnings to 25,191 contacts between 1:37 and 2:20 p.m., Huerta said. Messages also were sent to more than 29,000 campus email addresses. Fresno State has about 24,000 students enrolled and 2,300 staff members this semester.
Fresno State announced on its Twitter account at 2:28 p.m. Monday that a student had been arrested. In the early evening, the university confirmed Pryor was the suspect.
Huerta said police searched Pryor’s apartment, located just off campus, and found no weapons. Further, Frank Lamas, Fresno State vice president for student affairs, said he spoke to Pryor’s mother and was told, “He’s not someone who owns a gun or has ever used a gun in the past.”
Huerta said he contacted the FBI to assist with the case.
Lamas said the threatening post, “from what I’ve seen, certainly wasn’t intended for what was said.”
Huerta also offered some sympathy for Pryor.
“I’d hate to think that this is something that would affect his life forever and ever,” he said.
Pryor was placed on an interim suspension, Lamas said, meaning he has 10 days to request a hearing with the dean of students’ office. The office will decide whether to end the suspension, prolong it or expel him based on the facts of the criminal case and his side of the story.
Fresno State leaders were prepared to evacuate the campus Monday as authorities investigated the threat, university President Joseph Castro said.
In a letter emailed Tuesday morning to the Fresno State community, Castro said campus leaders decided Fresno State should remain open and continue with classes “as soon as we were alerted that the suspect was in custody and assured he acted alone.”
Castro, who was traveling Monday as the incident unfolded, invited students to use the Student Health and Counseling Center on campus (phone number 559-278-2734). Faculty and staff who want help can contact David Crabtree, counselor for employee assistance services, at 559-960-1129 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Castro said.
Lamas said Tuesday that the president’s cabinet weighed many factors in deciding the university’s course of action. They wanted to be quick and decisive, but he noted that simply releasing all the students immediately may have played into the potential gunman’s plan. He could have been waiting to fire on the throng of students leaving the campus.
Overall, Lamas believes the campus handled the issue well.
Some students and staff complained about the brevity of the first text message, which told students that Fresno State police were investigating a threat made on social media. It did not mention a potential shooting.
“One of the hardest decisions you have when there’s a crisis or a critical incident occurring is developing that first message,” Huerta said. “You’re tipping it over now. You don’t want it to be like yelling fire in a movie theater – it has to be strategically done.”
Huerta said police needed to be sure of what was happening. Yik Yak provided them with Pryor’s cellphone and IP address, but that didn’t make him a suspect right away. Someone could have used his cellphone or computer, for example. They had to be sure before sending anything out.
Campus police will recommend one count of making terrorist threats, a felony, against Pryor when they submit evidence to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday morning.
Upon posting bail, Pryor was ordered to appear in Fresno County Superior Court on Nov. 17. He could be ordered to appear on a different date if the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office files charges before Nov. 17.
Pryor walked on to Fresno State’s football team after attending Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy, formerly known as Locke High School.
A spokesman for Green Dot Public Schools, which oversees Locke, said Tuesday that none of the high school’s staff would be available for comment on Pryor. He added that Locke serves the Green Meadows neighborhood, an area of relatively high poverty.
“Many students come through our doors with a variety of backgrounds and obstacles,” he said.
Attempts to reach the school’s staff directly were not successful.