Thursday, October 18, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 41


National anthrax scare hits Law Center, UC

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

The nationwide scare over the deadly biological agent anthrax struck UH on Wednesday afternoon, as students at the Law Center were told by some professors to leave class while authorities inspected an ailing professor's office.

While there was no official evacuation of the Bates Law Building, people who wanted to enter the building while members of the Houston Fire Department's Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) unit inspected the facility were told to remain outside until the inspection was complete.

The Law Center ultimately canceled classes after some professors had already sent their students home.

Robert Schuwerk, a professor of civil procedure, criminal law, professional responsibility and malpractice, reportedly was handed a copy of a New York Times science section Tuesday by a stranger at the University Center.

Brian Viney/The Daily Cougar

Emergency services personnel discuss a reported bomb threat outside the University Center on Wednesday. A student reported an unattended cop-finaly of the Quran and another book on Islam as suspicious, heightening tension from an earlier anthrax scare at the UH Law Center.

The section's lead story was headlined "C.D.C. Team Tackles Anthrax." A stack of the papers was placed (at press time, it was not determined by whom) in the central walkway of the UC on Tuesday and remained there until Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Schuwerk went to the Clear Lake Medical Center complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Reached by phone at his home Wednesday evening, Schuwerk told The Daily Cougar that after he mentioned the newspaper, which he said had some kind of dust on it, a police officer at the medical center made the decision to call the Law Center and the UH Police Department.

According to a statement released by the University's external communications department, HPD personnel inspected the Bates building, including Schuwerk's second-floor office, for air contamination.

"After a thorough inspection of the facility (Wednesday) afternoon, they have the building on all-clear but locked down the professor's office as a precautionary measure," the statement read.

According to a statement released by the Law Center, "the likelihood that (the dust on the newspaper) could actually be anthrax is estimated by University officials to be virtually none."

After Schuwerk's office was secured, students and faculty "spread the news by word of mouth, causing many people to leave the building. This disruption of the ordinary operation of the Law Center caused great confusion and led many professors to cancel their classes," forcing the center's administration to officially cancel the day's remaining classes.

According to the Law Center statement, the center will resume normal operations today.

"There is no current threat to anyone at the Law Center," it reads. "We urge our community to stand up to the threat of terrorism and not let this scare disrupt our lives any further."

Schuwerk would not discuss the particular reasons for his concern, citing the fact that he was still awaiting medical test results, which he said should be available by Friday.

"I didn't think I had enough information to justify (the suspicion of foul play)," he said.

"I'm sure there was nothing to it," he added.

After the HAZMAT team gave the "all-clear" to the Bates building, personnel picked up the remaining stack of newspapers at the UC for inspection. According to the UH statement, the team "found nothing to be concerned about."

In the meantime, however, there was a new cause for concern. A student saw a copy of the Quran and a paperback book titled A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam lying unattended on steps outside the UC and reported them as "questionable." Soon, a full-fledged bomb scare was underway.

HPD personnel taped off the area surrounding the books, but they and others nonchalantly stood around them.

"Looking at the books, it could easily be a setup for someone just walking by to see it and pick it up," said Thomas Roberts, acting captain of an HPD emergency medical team at the scene.

"Our HAZMAT team has made over 32 runs today alone," Roberts said. "We're taking every incident seriously."

At press time, UHPD had not yet completed a report on the incidents. The University's press release said that once the results of Schuwerk's medial tests were known, the University would issue an update.

With additional reporting 
by Melissa Kummer, Daily Cougar Staff

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