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'Artsy' Salem university student arrested after fake-bomb scare

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A Salem International University student who tried to get creative by using a fake bomb in an English class presentation Tuesday will be charged with a misdemeanor after his theatrics terrified students, prompted 911 calls and disrupted the small-town campus, authorities said.

Joshua John Richards, 33, of Clarksburg, was in custody Tuesday afternoon and would be charged with manufacture and possession of a hoax bomb by day's end, said Harrison County Prosecutor Joe Shaffer. That's a misdemeanor punishable by six months to a year behind bars and a fine of up to $5,000.

Shaffer said he also will seek "thousands of dollars" in restitution for the cost of the massive emergency response, which involved fire and police departments, 16 sheriff's deputies, four emergency services teams and a bomb squad.

School officials didn't respond to repeated phone calls about the incident, but Shaffer said it appears to be a case of creativity gone awry.

"He was trying to be artsy, I guess," Shaffer said. "You can get away with that in acting class, but it didn't work here."

Richards was scheduled to give a presentation and "decided to do a little bit of role playing," Shaffer said. "He was sort of acting out, 'What would you do if your neighbor had a bomb,' or something along those lines. People immediately got afraid."

When Richards saw that a few female classmates were hysterical and crying, he realized his error, Shaffer said. He took his black box with its blinking green light to his car, sat down and awaited the arrival of authorities.

Shaffer said Richards was obviously frightened once he realized the stir he had created.

Salem International is a small private school that sits on a 100-acre campus in north-central West Virginia. It was founded as Salem College in 1888 by the Seventh Day Baptist Church. In the early 1990s, it merged with Japan's Teikyo University and became Salem-Teikyo University but was later sold to a private investment group and renamed Salem International University. It is a private for-profit institution.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission said 811 students are enrolled.


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