Bomb Explodes at Bluefield State College

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
November 22, 1968

Bluefield State Phys Ed Building Ripped By Explosion

No Injuries Or Deaths Reported

A bomb blew a gaping hole in the side of the new $1.6 million Physical Education Building at Bluefield State College Thursday night and extensively damaged the third and fourth floors of the structure.

Miraculously no one was hurt but dozens of people apparently narrowly escaped death or serious injury.

Anyone in the area of the explosion on either floor would have been killed or injured by the tremendous force of the explosion or by shards of glass which flew like shrapnel throughout the area when the bomb exploded about 7:10 p.m., college authorities said.

Lloyd Davis, the BSC security officer, said the nature of the explosive was unknown but it could have been "six or eight sticks of dynamite."

FBI agents, state and city police and the Bluefield Fire Department were on the scene last night. Davis said he expected the State Fire Marshal's office and other investigatory agencies also would be called in on the case.

Areas Searched

Later last night, the Associate Press in Charleston reported it had received a telephone message that bombs also had been placed in the college swimming poll and the Administration Building. City Police Chief Andy Dodson said those areas were being searched late last night and no further explosions had been reported.

The bomb apparently was placed in an enclosed stairwell which descends the east side of the Physical Education Building. It destroyed a portion of the stairs, blew the roof off the stairway, shattered the main building wall and did extensive damage to offices and classrooms inside the building.

Most seriously damaged were a section of offices used by BSC coaches. Windows of an apartment occupied by Mrs. Jane Bright, the campus nurse, also were shattered. Windows on the opposite side of the building were broken by the force of the explosion.

The area also included Education Department and Social Science offices, BSC President Wendell G. Hardway said.

No One There

"Those offices are frequently occupied by people at night," Hardway said. "It is amazing that no one was there when this happened."

First reports were that possibly more than one explosion had occurred on the campus. However Alvaro Padilla, a BSC student from Cochabamba, Bolivia, said he was in his room at the nearby men's dormitory and heard the single explosion. Padilla said the blast broke the window of his dormitory room.

Hardway said he had contacted Dr. Leslie Martin, administrator for the State Board of Education. He said he expected Martin would communicate with the office of Gov. Hulett C. Smith about the situation at Bluefield State.

Hardway said he had been informed by Robert Abbott of Fayetteville, president of the State Board of Education, that the board "would take the necessary steps to secure the college and permit it to carry out its objectives."

The Board has scheduled a meeting to discuss the Bluefield State situation in Charleston next Monday. There was no immediate indication whether this meeting would be expedited in view of the latest violence.

"I never thought it would come to this," Hardway said, surveying the shattered wreckage in the area of the explosion.

Death Threats

Hardway and other college officials have received "Black Power" death threats and the campus has been wracked by a plague of window smashings and tire-slashings in recent weeks. Two bricks were thrown through his bedroom window in his campus home earlier this month. Every window in the front of the new Student Union building also has been smashed.

The Thursday night explosion shook homes and alerted Bluefield residents all over the west and north sections of the city. Even some residents of the fairly distant east end heard and felt the explosion.

Hardway said it was impossible to estimate the amount of damages but "certainly it will be many thousands of dollars." He said the architect who designed the building had been called to make recommendations for repairs.

College authorities said there would be no classes Friday or Saturday, and that an announcement concerning classes next week would be made later.

Sealed Off

Police had sealed off the campus entrances last night. They were permitting people to leave the campus, but not to enter.

Hardway said the only report of possible minor injury came from college personnel who said a student-worker named David Chapman went to Bluefield Sanitarium for treatment of a headache, apparently caused by the concussion of the blast. However he said Chapman didn't remain at the Sanitarium and decided to return home without being treated.

Mrs. Bright, the nurse who occupied an apartment below the immediate area of the blast, said she had not been living in it recently because of the rash of vandalism on the campus. She said she had been in it briefly shortly before the blast occurred.

Chief Dodson said that two calls had been received at the police station Thursday, the first coming from Officer N. W. Dalton at 6:45 p.m.

The chief said that Dalton became suspicious when students began to vacate the Administration Building. Conversation heard among the students indicated that the Administration Building was in jeopardy. Some of the quotes from students were to the effect of "get out of here, somet[h]ing is going to happen - a bomb's going to go off."

Dalton, along with four other officers who represent a regular detail on the campus since the trouble began several weeks ago, started a complete search of the building, just as the explosion went off in the new gymnasium building.

One male had been questioned at 10 p.m. last night and two other students were waiting to be questioned at midnight by state police. One of the students was female.

Dodson said six more officers were available to aid the regular detail hired for the campus patrol.

A second call came into the police headquarters at 9:05 p.m. warning officers that the Administration Building had a bomb which could go off at any time. Chief Dodson said the caller would not identify himself, but it was a male.

Dodson said he knew of no plans to evacuate the dormitories.

"We just don't know too much at this time," he said. "We will conduct a thorough investigation and try to prevent any further happenings of this nature and attempt to settle the unrest."

An FBI spokesman said that assistance from the identification division and laboratroy [sic] and assistant on out-of-state leads in cooperation with the local state police would be given.

One of the janitors being questioned by police said he was off duty, and "I don't intend to go back to that campus tonight - my jacket's over there but I won't be there."

Trouble on the campus in recent weeks, climaxed by all-out window breaking assaults on the Student Union Building, caused Bluefield City Manager Howard Leist to announce earlier yesterday that all vacations, leaves and days off for members of the Bluefield Police Department had been cancelled.

Leist said the city police would go on seven-day, 12-hour workdays, effective immediately. He said the city also has requested police assistance from the Mercer County State Police and the county sheriff's department.

He said the extra men thus supplied would be used to patrol the BSC campus.


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