Threats target libraries in Salt Lake, other U.S. cities, prompting police, FBI investigations

Libraries across the nation have faced similar threats.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A group gathers near the Salt Lake City Public Library on Thursday, April 14, 2022. Threats have been directed at the city's libraries.

A cluster of threats against Salt Lake City libraries prompted officials to work with local and federal agencies this month as similar menacing messages disrupted libraries across the country.

None of the threats against Salt Lake City’s library system was deemed credible, but library interim Executive Director Deborah Ehrman wrote in an email that officials are being “extra vigilant and watchful for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.”

“This is an open investigation, so I cannot speak to any details, but the safety of our patrons and staff is The City Library’s top priority,” Ehrman stated. “As with any threat, we will continue to act swiftly to take the appropriate precautions.”

The threats against Salt Lake City’s library system follow a spate of similarly worded and formatted messages received by libraries nationwide. According to the American Library Association, bombing or shooting warnings this month forced temporary library closures in Hawaii; Denver; Nashville, Tenn.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Salt Lake City.

In a memo sent to staffers this week, Ehrman said the library received two threats through a chat system last Friday and contacted law enforcement “to add these threats to the ongoing investigation.”

Officials conducted a search of the showcase library downtown and swept all of the branches as well for unsecure packages or backpacks. Additional threats the library system received Monday were also shared with law enforcement.

On Sept. 12, a bomb threat against the library system prompted Salt Lake City police to investigate an unattended bag outside the Sprague Branch, 2131 S. 1100 East, in Sugar House. Investigators found no explosives inside the bag.

Salt Lake City police spokesperson Brent Weisberg wrote in an email Thursday that the department is still investigating the Sept. 12 threat but that he could not comment on other potential investigations.

“We take all bomb threats seriously and work with multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, in an attempt to identify and hold [to] account those who make bomb threats,” Weisberg said. “These investigations can take substantial time and resources, but we are committed to doing everything we can to help ensuring community safety. We would encourage anyone who has information on any bomb threat to call 911.”

In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the Salt Lake City FBI field office said the agency was aware of bomb threats against a local library, and was “in touch with the local law enforcement agencies involved.”

The statement did not specify which library faced the threats or which local law enforcement agencies were involved.

“We urge the public to remain vigilant,” the statement said, “and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray this week, the American Library Association’s executive board expressed concern over threats being made to public libraries and individual staffers.

“Given the seriousness and proliferation of these threats of violence and other acts of intimidation increasingly taking place in America’s libraries,” the letter states, “we are gravely concerned for the safety of library workers and the millions of Americans who visit libraries each day.”

Association President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada wrote on the organization’s website that there is no evidence to show a direct connection between the threats to libraries across the county and opposition to library materials and programs.