Otago Uni bomb threat: Woman sent hoax to hide failure from parents

A woman who sent multiple fake bomb threats to  the University of Otago on the eve of graduation ceremonies, warning of carnage bigger than the deadly 2019 Christchurch mosques attacks, did it out of fear her parents would find out she wasn't graduating.

The former student of the university was today sentenced to five months' community detention and nine months' supervision when she appeared for sentencing at the Auckland District Court.

The accused, who has interim name suppression, was a top student in primary school whose mental health and grades suffered after her move to New Zealand, and dramatically worsened in university.

In July last year she pleaded guilty to making a bomb threat against the Dunedin university, which saw faculty bosses of Otago Polytechnic and University of Otago call off ceremonies and parades scheduled for December 2020 at the 11th hour, affecting thousands of graduands.

It was earlier revealed that the woman threatened a firearms and explosives attack of "a magnitude surpassing the March 15, 2019 Christchurch mosque massacres", causing "significant disruption" to the people of New Zealand.

Otago Uni students held an impromptu graduation ceremony in Castle St on December 9, 2020 after the official ceremony was postponed.

While the woman had earlier pleaded guilty to the charge, she sought a discharge without conviction.

Judge Clare Ryan today declined her application for a discharge without conviction because of the seriousness of her offending.

The woman, in her early 20s, sat in the public gallery with her head bowed, accompanied by her parents and brother.

Using the internet connection at a public library, she sent her first email with the title "Beware, gun attack at graduation ceremony" 4 December 2020, using a new email she had just created with the user name 'far.right'.

It bounced back, which prompted several more rounds of creating email accounts including 'white.supremacy.rocks' - sending out the same message repeatedly on the same day.

"Dear University of Otago," she wrote, "Since you c***s have suspended me I'm going to ruin your graduation with some firearms and a little touch of explosives. The town hall will make quite a boom.

"I will make the mosque attacks look like child's play... Are you going to take the gamble?" the emails read.

University staff received the email threats, which eventually saw both the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic call off their December 2020 graduation ceremonies and parades at the 11th hour.

Caroline Freeman College warden Chris Addington, carrying a flag, together with students and...
Caroline Freeman College warden Chris Addington, carrying a flag, together with students and family after the cancellation of an Otago University graduation ceremonies in Dunedin in December 2020. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Thousands of students and tens of thousands of their whānau  had travelled to Dunedin for the graduations after a challenging year of Covid-19 lockdowns, restrictions on school and home life, suffering what the judge called "significant loss emotionally and financially".

Not all were from wealthy, stable, happy homes, she said.

The alarming specificity of the gun and bomb threats were chilling, said the Chancellor of Otago University in her victim impact statement read out by the judge, and the link to the Christchurch mosque massacre especially disturbing and callous.

Name suppression will remain until later this month.

Judge Ema Aitken acknowledged the woman's guilty plea at the time they were entered.

"It takes a lot of courage to take responsibility for your actions," she said.

Interim name suppression was granted and continued until today's sentencing.

Up until today the woman has been released on existing bail conditions.

In 2020, then Otago University vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne said there was enormous disappointment felt by staff and students that the ceremonies had to be abandoned.

"I know this is a further disappointment at the end of a year that has been more difficult than most," Prof Hayne said.

"In the wake of Covid-19, our students have overcome huge obstacles to stay on track and complete their degrees this year.

"Moreover, many of our students and their whānau have made significant sacrifices to travel to Dunedin so they could be a part of these very special celebrations," she said.

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