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Indian in jail after US college bomb hoax

Washington, March 1: An Indian student from Andhra Pradesh who shut down the University of Missouri-Rolla on Tuesday with a bogus bomb and anthrax threat has been formally charged with six felony offences — including terrorism — and will appear in court on March 6 to answer those charges.

Till then, he will be held in Phelps County Jail in Missouri because indications are that Sujithkumar Venkatramolla, 22, is unable to get anyone to put up a quarter million-dollar bond which a judge yesterday set for his release.

The incident involving the civil engineering student from Nizambad began on Tuesday with the university’s police department receiving calls that “some kind of target was going to be destroyed tomorrow (Wednesday) at 8 am.”

The university police sought reinforcements from the police department in Rolla town and two of that department’s agencies responded with help. It has now been confirmed that Venkatramolla made those threatening calls, according to documents charging him.

Shortly after Venkatramolla made the calls, he walked into the university’s Butler-Carlton Civil EngineeringBuilding waving a paper bag and holding a knife, declaring that he had a bomb and anthrax poison, Mark Kearse, acting chief of the university police, told reporters.

When the student defied orders to drop the knife, apolice officer shot him with a stun gun. The white, powdery substance found on Venkatramolla claiming to be anthrax was established during tests to be powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, authorities shut down the university, which has 5,500 students and a staff of about 350. Venkatramolla’s friends say he is no terrorist, but was depressed and worried about doing badly in his studies.

The campus newspaper, Missouri Miner, quoted another Indian student, Satya Putta, as saying that for five days before the incident, Venkatramolla has been lying in bed, food piled up around him, but sleeping most of the time with a sign near his cot that read: “Please don’t wake me.”

But such explanations are cold comfort to authorities in schools and colleges in the US who are paranoid about the gun culture in their institutions.

Venkatramolla’s case is the third incident in recent memory involving Indians on US campuses. In January last year, Nikhil Dhar, a Calcutta boy, shocked the small town of Lowell when he attacked his professor at the University of Massachusetts with a knife, allegedly because of his falling grades.

Earlier, a 62 year-old Indian-American, who graduated from Calcutta University with a degree in electrical engineering in 1963, terrorised a placid university campus in Cleveland, killed one student, injured two others and trapped 93 people in a building for seven hours before surrendering to the police.

Biswanath Halder, who used two handguns for his assault, believed a computer laboratory assistant at Case Western Reserve University’s Business School, had hacked into his website.

Twenty three people who were in the building where Venkatramolla staged his drama on Tuesday or came into contact with him were immediately quarantined for decontamination because of suspected anthrax in the Indian student’s possession.

But they were released after no anthrax was found on the Indian student.Throughout the incident, Venkatramolla repeatedly asked the police officers to kill him, according to a court affidavit.

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