Hillel at the University of Washington was evacuated Monday afternoon after a fired employee threatened to cause an explosion in the building. Police shut down streets in Seattle’s University District after receiving a call from employees about the threats. No one was injured.
Police believe the suspect was a custodian who had just been given notice of his termination and threatened to blow up the Jewish student building at the corner of NE 50th St. and 17th Ave. NE.
Rabbi Oren Hayon, executive director of Hillel UW, would not identify the suspect, but he told JTNews that “there was a credible enough threat that…a number of our staff knew to respond quickly.”
“We got emergency first responders on the scene immediately,” he said.
According to Det. Renee Witt of the Seattle Police Department, an employee followed the custodian into the building’s basement at approximately 1:45 p.m. after he suspected there may be a threat, saw the custodian begin to mix ammonia and bleach together, then evacuated the building.
Witt said she does not believe the threats had any anti-Semitic connotations, and the suspect has an apparent history of threatening suicide.
“I’m not concerned about anti-Israel or anti-Semitic overtones of the threat,” Hayon said.
According to the SPD blotter, the SWAT team found the suspect in Hillel’s basement and put him under arrest at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Police have not released his name, as he is not currently in police custody. The suspect is at Harborview Trauma Center for treatment of chemical inhalation and under observation for mental health issues. He will be transported into custody upon his release.
Hillel staff returned to the building around 4 p.m. Monday.
“Every imaginable government agency has inspected and secured the building inside and out, so I think we feel really good about our space,” Hayon said.
Keith Dvorchik, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and a former Hillel director, told JTNews that “the Jewish Federation is shocked by today’s incident at Hillel, but we are greatly relieved that our friends at Hillel evacuated the building safely and there were no injuries. We are grateful for the swift and effective response by police and other emergency responders handling the situation.”
Hayon said that while he’s relieved that the students and staff who were in the building are safe, he also doesn’t believe the successful evacuation was a stroke of luck.
“We have thoughtful, conscientious, alert staff that want to work really hard for the growth and well-being of young adults in Seattle, and frankly we’re all trained in emergencies,” he said. “No one’s going to be worried to come in and do our good work in the morning.”