IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s threat assessment team recently investigated a “concerning comment on social media” but concluded there was no immediate risk and did not alert the campus.
Still, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said his office last week canceled the gun permits that a UI international student received just weeks earlier “because the U of I told us his visa was being revoked.”
The UI’s threat assessment team includes representatives from UI police, human resources, the Office of the Dean of Students and University Counseling Service.
The team “evaluated the risk, determined there was no imminent risk, and took the necessary precautions to ensure the campus community was safe,” according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.
UI officials won’t say what those precautions entailed and declined to name anyone involved, citing a federal privacy law.
Pulkrabek said his office was not involved in the investigation, but last Friday revoked weapons permits for UI student Hanxiang Ni, 22, who had obtained a permit to acquire on Jan. 7 and a permit to carry on Jan. 22.
Friends and acquaintances told The Gazette that Ni was expelled after posting a reference on social media to a 1991 massacre on campus that killed five and paralyzed a sixth when doctoral student Gang Lu pulled a revolver.
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Immigration officials on Wednesday confirmed that Ni’s visa was terminated Feb. 2 because he was expelled from UI. He wasn’t deported but left to go back to China on Feb. 4, according to immigration officials.
UI officials would not confirm for The Gazette that administrators have expelled any student this semester, citing protections provided by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Beck did confirm that Ni, who on Facebook identifies himself as a UI employee and student from Hangzhou, China, was enrolled at the university during the 2013-2014 academic year and again in the spring of 2016 as a pre-business major.
She said he’s no longer a UI student, but wouldn’t say why.
“FERPA precludes the university from disclosing any non-directory information about Mr. Ni,” Beck said.
UI police have not charged Ni with any crime, according to officials and records. He does not face federal charges, according to public records, and immigration officials did not respond to questions about Ni’s status in the United States.
UI sophomore Mason Clarke, 19, said he is acquainted with Ni’s friends and learned that Ni on Feb. 1 posted on social media a comment directed at his professors. Although the post since has been deleted, Clarke provided a translated version of the text to The Gazette.
It said, according to Clarke, “I’ve been working so hard this semester, if the school still doesn’t let me pass, I will let the professor feel the fear like Lu Gang.”
Lu was a 28-year-old former UI graduate student who on Nov. 1, 1991, fatally shot four UI faculty members, one student and himself on campus.
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Clarke said authorities discovered Ni’s post within a day and went to the international student’s home to question him.
Clarke said Ni was returned to China on Feb. 4.
In addition to the Feb. 1 post, Ni in the last month posted on social media images of firearms — as recently as Jan. 13, according to Clarke, who provided the images to The Gazette.
UI officials have not disseminated information to the campus community about any threat, and Clarke said that concerns him as a student.
“I definitely think the university should put out a notification of this when it happens,” Clarke said. “I think that these things should not go under the radar, and people should be made aware.”
The university’s decision to stay mum on the situation has Clarke wondering how often things like this happen that never come to light.
“I have talked about it with a few friends, and I would certainly say my friends are both shocked and concerned,” Clarke said.
Beck on Wednesday told The Gazette that campus safety is the university’s top priority.
“The threat assessment program is dedicated to the early identification, assessment and management of incidents and behaviors that threaten the safety and well-being of the university community,” she said in an emailed statement. “When necessary, the Hawk Alert System is used to notify the campus community of threats to physical safety in emergency situations.”