A Weber State University student is facing an array of charges, including three felony counts of threats of terrorism, after threatening staff at the Miller Administration Building over the holiday break.
Thewodros Wolie Birhanu, a 34-year-old physics major, made threats on Dec. 21 to kill three separate individuals, court documents allege, before the staff members entered the Miller Administration Building. The building was subsequently placed under lockdown. On Dec. 22, Birhanu refused to leave campus after receiving a verbal and written trespass warning, the court documents state.
WSU Police Chief Dane LeBlanc said Miller Administration Building employees were alerted, and a safety plan was put in place. Others on campus were not alerted to the threats, as such measures would not have been helpful in this instance. Most students were gone, and staff was at a minimum as a result of winter break.
“If it’s a really broad threat, we have a broad lockdown,” LeBlanc said. “This individual only made threats at the Miller Administration Building — there was no need for a broad alert, such as Code Purple.”
According to charging documents, Birhanu specifically threatened to hurt a WSU administrator on Dec. 23 for refusing to drop a code of conduct charge of “threat to the campus.” On Dec. 24 Birhanu emailed a WSU employee and gave a three-day ultimatum, saying that a police order wasn’t going to stop him from killing people.
Campus was closed Dec. 23–26 for the Christmas holiday, negating the need for an additional lockdown.
Birhanu appeared in the Ogden Justice Court on Dec. 23, where he faced charges of disorderly conduct, according to court records. A cash bond was posted on Dec. 28 for $1,700, but court records aren’t clear when he was released from jail on those charges.
Charging documents also noted a history of aggressive behavior, pointing to an incident in October 2013, when Birhanu was found guilty of assaulting a police officer in Salt Lake City.
Birhanu emailed a WSU employee on Dec. 28, writing, “You have to know you will lose one of your body part” and saying that he will never leave them alone.
Birhanu was arrested on Jan. 3 by WSU campus police and booked into the Weber County Jail on the threats of terrorism charges. He is being held without bail.
Because he disrupted a state facility, LeBlanc said, the charge of threat of terrorism was justified.
“We take threats seriously, and we’ll always respond appropriately,” said LeBlanc.
Birhanu requested an interpreter of Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, for his next court hearing on Jan. 10. Court documents state that “ an interpreter may not be available in that short of time for that language.”