Correction: This article initially stated that the animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! sent a threatening email. In actuality, the group emailed a press release regarding violations of the Animal Welfare Act at Santa Cruz laboratory Santa Cruz Biotechnology. The Daily Nexus regrets this error.
Two faculty members at UC Santa Cruz fell victim to what many officials are calling criminal acts of antiscience violence.
The crimes, committed on Aug. 2, involved two synchronized cases of arson executed with firebombs. Although there have been no arrests, authorities believe animal liberation groups were behind the attacks.
At approximately 5:40 a.m., UCSC police and fire personnel responded to reports of a burning vehicle parked outside the campus residence of a faculty member. While officials extinguished the blaze, a second fire was reported at 5:43 a.m., this time at the off-campus home of a faculty member on the west side of Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz Police Officers and Fire Dept. officials who arrived on the scene of the second fire found the faculty member’s residence engulfed in flames. The victims, a UCSC researcher, his wife and two young children, sustained minor injuries but managed to escape from a second-story window.
Police later concluded the home had been intentionally firebombed.
No one has taken credit for the bombings, but authorities suspect animal liberation groups, citing fliers obtained from a local coffee shop. The fliers, which listed the addresses of individual UCSC researchers — including one of the victims — read, in part: “Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live.”
Police are offering a $50,000 reward for any information regarding the attacks, a Santa Cruz Police Dept. spokesman said. The reward, made up of contributions from UCSC and the FBI, is the highest the city has ever offered.
“This is nothing less than a case of attempted homicide,” Santa Cruz Chief of Police Howard Skerry said in a police report. “It’s unconscionable that any reasonable person would consider this an acceptable tactic to get their point across. We are working hard with the other agencies and committing all available resources to follow all possible leads. We urge anyone with information to come forward.”
University of California President Mark G. Yudof issued a statement calling the firebombings “acts of domestic terrorism” and dispatched several key members of his staff to the UCSC campus to address the situation.
“The attacks on members of the academic community that occurred this past weekend in Santa Cruz are outrageous and abhorrent,” Yudof said. “Acts of violence and intimidation such as these are unacceptable, and they continue a troubling pattern, seen at UCLA and other UC campuses, that should be repugnant to us all. These acts threaten not only our academic researchers and their families, but the safety and security of neighbors in our communities as well.”
UCSC Chancellor George R. Blumenthal also issued a press release, declaring the acts of violence attacks on both members of the intellectual community and their academic freedoms.
“These are odious assaults on individuals and on the principles of free inquiry by which we live,” Blumenthal said. “The campus is taking this extremely seriously and is working closely with law enforcement agencies and our own campus resources to identify and apprehend the perpetrators as well as taking major proactive steps to support researchers in the face of violence and intimidation. The personal safety and security of all our students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority.”
Despite the attacks, Guy Lasnier, a Public Affairs representative in the Chancellor’s Office, said campus operations have proceeded, albeit under increased security.
“Most people are working and the labs are running,” Lasnier said. “But there have been numerous meetings with faculty to provide emotional support as well as concrete security measures such as providing faculty the option of having their homes evaluated for safety. We also have stepped up police patrols in the city of Santa Cruz as well as UCSC.”
The UCSC firebombings are preceded by a long string of incidents at various UC campuses involving anti-animal research extremists.
According to a log of incidents compiled by the UC, six masked animal-rights extremists disrupted a child’s birthday party earlier this year at the home of a UCSC faculty member, striking her husband at the door.
Meanwhile, an unoccupied UC Los Angeles vanpool vehicle was set on fire at a park-and-ride facility in Irvine last month and an explosive device was ignited on the porch of UCLA professor’s home earlier in the year, causing extensive damage to the property. Animal Liberation Front claimed credit for both incidences.
Similar acts have been reported at the UC Berkeley campus where over the last year more than 20 reports of animal rights related vandalisms have been inflicted on UC Berkeley researchers’ homes, including broken windows and vandalized cars.
In reaction to the chain of violence and vandalism, the UC is strongly backing the passage of a piece of legislation that would strengthen resources necessary to prevent and punish such acts.
“We will work at the campuses to provide the best possible support to members of our academic community, who deserve to work and raise their families in a safe environment,” Yudof said. “And we will continue to work in Sacramento with Assemblyman Gene Mullin for the passage of his AB 2296, which aims to provide more tools to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.”