Five days before TCU moved an appearance by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright off campus for safety reasons, his Chicago church received a bomb threat, Chicago police said. But TCU officials said that event didn’t weigh on the decision to not host the pastor.
Wright, whose sound bites have stirred controversy after being aired repeatedly on national TV in past weeks, canceled three appearances in Dallas scheduled for this weekend. Two of those events were scheduled to be held on TCU’s campus but were moved by the university March 19 because of security concerns.
The Rev. Rickey Hill, executive pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church, where Wright was scheduled to appear Friday and Saturday, said Wright told the church’s senior pastor he canceled the appearances because he didn’t want to endanger the lives of churchgoers, his family or his own life.
Watch Hill discuss the situation
Tracy Syler-Jones, associate vice chancellor for marketing and communication, said Wednesday that TCU Police advised the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees about security issues surrounding the event before they voted to move it off campus.
“They felt strongly that it was their duty to move these events off campus based on the information they received from TCU Police,” she said. Syler-Jones said the university won’t release what the information was or how it was received by TCU Police, except to say that police officials consulted with the Fort Worth Police Department and concerns were specific to the TCU event.
“The security issues that were raised after campus police conferred with the Fort Worth Police Department were solely related to the campus event and not other security issues,” Syler-Jones said.
Calls to TCU Police and the Fort Worth Police Department spokesman weren’t returned Wednesday, and TCU Police declined last week to comment about the event’s move.
Officer Marcel Bright, news affairs officer for the Chicago Police Department, said the bomb threat was phoned into Trinity United Christian Church in Chicago on March 14. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama attends Trinity United.
“A caller stated he was going to blow up the church and hung up,” Bright said. He said the church staff immediately phoned police.
Special agent Ross Rice, spokesman for the Chicago Field Office of the FBI, said agents responded along with Chicago police but nothing was found.
He said “nothing else of a credible nature has been reported” since.
Wright also canceled scheduled appearances at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, where he was scheduled to preach Sunday. FBI spokeswoman Pat Villafranca of the Houston FBI field office, and the church’s business administrator, Maurice Carr, said there hadn’t been threats received against Wright.
Carr said Wright cited a “media frenzy” in an e-mail to the church as a reason for canceling in Houston.
In Tampa, Fla., where Wright also canceled appearances, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said police hadn’t dealt with threats at Bible-Based Fellowship Church, where Wright was scheduled to appear.
Joe Russo, who was responsible for President Clinton’s security arrangements during his 20-year career with the Secret Service, said threats like those received by Wright’s church are a regular part of appearances by high-profile figures.
“Bomb threats happen across the board – it doesn’t even have to be a controversial person,” Russo said. Most of the time, though, there’s no device found, he said.
“When you’re talking about terrorism, their effect is mass casualty, and they want to shock, so they’re not calling first,” said Russo, who is now a senior vice president at T&M Protection Resources, a private firm that specializes in high-level security, executive protection and explosive detection.
Russo said a private person such as Wright, unlike presidential candidates or other high-profile government figures, doesn’t bring his own Secret Service protection, which means the burden falls on local police, or in TCU’s case, campus police.
Hill at Friendship-West said there haven’t been any threats directed to the church, although he said police will be present. He said additional security measures won’t be necessary.
“Nothing has changed, nothing will change – other than the fact Rev. Wright won’t be with us in person,” Hill said.
Michael Sorrell, the interim president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, which will host another Friday event at which Wright was scheduled to speak, said the security at the college will be the same as it would be for any other event.
Calls to the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas FBI office Wednesday about security for the Metroplex events weren’t returned.
Staff reporters Valerie J. Hannon and Julieta Chiquillo contributed to this report.