YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Fear of terrorism has swept much of the west in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, and Monday, that fear hit home for Youngstown residents.
Youngstown State University students rallied to re-paint the school’s famed rock Monday afternoon to cover over a message supporting terrorist group ISIS written earlier in the day, but not before it sparked shock and outrage.
Multiple viewers submitted messages to WKBN with photos of the rock, which is located outside the school’s Kilcawley Center and is frequently used to advertise for events on campus. One side said, “YSU supports ISIS.” Other messages seen in viewer-submitted photos are, “France deserves destruction,” “Jihad over God ISIS,” and “We are coming.”
Groundskeepers quickly painted over the messages with white paint. It was not immediately clear who painted the rock or when they did so.
Students began re-painting the rock with an American flag design at 2:30 after organizing an event on Facebook. U.S. Representative Tim Ryan appeared at the event, saying that he was proud of the students who re-painted the rock.
“I mean, when you hear about it, you just shake your head, and you think nah, you did something stupid,” Ryan said. “You hope it’s just some kid or somebody who did something stupid. All indications are that it’s not any credible threat around here.”
Students painted messages like, “Pray for Paris,” “God bless America,” and “Land of the free” on the rock.
Army veteran Sam Carden stood by the rock, holding a sign that read, “Once a soldier — always a soldier — I will protect this house.”
“I was really mad, so I came out here, and I was like, ‘I will either stand alone or somebody will join me,” Carden said. “But I don’t have to say anything. My voice will still be heard.”
Carden was not alone, however.
Logan Davis was leaving class when he saw Carden standing by the rock, and he decided to join.
“I hope people start to wake up and realize that this isn’t something that’s happening somewhere else and it’s never going to come home,” he said. “This is happening, and we need to be ready.”
YSU student Chris Gunther said he was disappointed by the hate-filled messages.
“I feel a lot of people should acknowledge what is going on here and realize this is not a laughing matter,” he said.
YSU sent a text alert to students and faculty at 11:14 a.m. Monday that read, “Messages of concern were found on the rock. Police are investigating. No credible threat to campus currently. Any info call YSU Police: 330-941-3527.”
WKBN began hearing about the message around 9 a.m.
The decision to wait sparked some criticism on campus Monday.
“I also am a little angry with the university for not alerting us to the situation,” student Philip Monrean said. “I wish they would have at least put out a statement, whether it’s a hoax or not.”
Assistant Vice President for University Relations Shannon Tirone said YSU sent out a campus-wide alert as soon as police and the FBI decided the messages were not a credible threat. Tirone also said that police aren’t taking chances.
“We’ve beefed up patrol on campus. Not so much because we see it as a threat, but because we want to make sure our students to realize that they are safe,” Tirone said. “So we’re taking every precaution that we possibly can at this point.”
A news release from the university read, in part:
Messages were found painted on the rock on the Youngstown State University campus core on Monday, Nov. 23, that were found to be of concern. YSU Police are investigating the situation. The FBI was contacted as a precautionary measure. No threats have been validated at this time. Police are continuing to look into the matter. There is no credible threat to the campus at this time.
YSU student Laura McDonough said students have been on edge lately after an unfounded threat was made about a weapon on campus.
“Maybe I am a little bit scared, because we did have that threat last Friday that somebody was going to bring a gun on campus and saying we support ISIS,” she said. “That means somebody on this campus might.”
YSU officials have not directly addressed that concern, but on Thursday, a YSU alert was sent out that read: “YSU Police have determined that alleged threats made via social media against the University are NOT credible. There is no threat to campus.”
Over the coming days police will be reviewing surveillance footage and asking anyone with information to come forward.