Man arrested in alleged connection to 'suspicious' container at pro-life event

Attendees of a speech by a representative of Students for Life of America were evacuated after reports of a suspicious “agitated” man, the smell of ammonia, and the discovery of a “suspicious” container left on the ground.

Several students in attendance reported physical symptoms such as headache and throat irritation.

Police made an arrest Wednesday after students at a pro-life event were evacuated from a building at a Rochester, Minnesota college amid reports of a man “mixing chemicals” and the discovery of a "suspicious" container.

Emergency personnel were called to an event at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) after reports of a man who appeared to mix chemicals and leave a suspicious container during a speech on “Embracing Controversy” by Students for Life of America (SFLA) Northern Regional Coordinator Norah Maldonado. Police arrested 19-year-old Samuel Vanderwiel, charging him with one felony count of terroristic threats to cause terror with reckless disregard and three misdemeanors including fifth-degree assault. 

The suspect was “very agitated during the event,” Maldonado said, according to Breitbart News. Maldonado relayed reports that the man was “mixing chemicals together in his backpack in the center of the room before leaving in a hurry.”

After members of the audience reported the man’s behavior and the smell of ammonia, the Rochester police, fire department, and the hazardous materials team arrived and the audience was evacuated, according to KIMT. RCTC security informed the fire department about an item containing liquid found in the event space.

[RELATED: Video captures moment this 'feminist' attacked peaceful pro-life demonstrators]

The Rochester fire department reported that the container was, in fact, a water bottle containing liquid that returned a “slight reading of ammonia.” The responders evaluated three individuals who reported symptoms such as chest irritation and headache, but nobody left in an ambulance.

“First-arriving units found about 50 people evacuated and waiting outside the building. Security met RFD and advised they believed everyone was out of the theater and a suspect was in custody," the Rochester Fire Department said, according to KIMT.

“The crowd of more than 85 people quickly filed out of the room to the parking lot outside,” Monaldo said, according to SFLA. “Once outside, we prayed briefly, and I was able to actually finish my speech. Other students who had been in different parts of the college also gathered around to join our spontaneous event. Thankfully, everyone is safe and the man responsible is in police custody.”

Rochester Criminal Investigation Lieutenant Mike Sadauskis confirmed to Campus Reform that Vanderwiel was arrested after police recognized his intent to cause a “disruption by mixing chemicals” and emit a foul odor into the environment. Sadauskis added that, at this time, police have no reason to believe that there was any sort of intent to cause an explosion, despite multiple reports suggesting there was a "bomb threat," but that evacuating students was “the right thing to do, based on events that have occurred in the past in the United States for a variety of issues.”

“We had several people come to us and say that they smelled a foul odor coming from that area where the bottle was left,” Sadauskis said, who explained that officials then evacuated out of precaution until the substance could be investigated further.

[RELATED: Fire 'appeared to be intentionally set' to pro-life banner, college says]

Despite the scare, Maldonado says that he and the rest of SFLA “will continue to promote non-violence to advance the dialogue on the human rights issue of our day” and that they will  “embrace the controversy” surrounding abortion and “never stop standing in solidarity with pregnant moms, families, and their pre-born children.”

SFLA President Kristan Hawkins told Campus Reform that the scare is “not the kind of back-to-school one hopes for.”

“I hope everyone who learns about this story takes time to pray for our courageous staff and student leaders, as this is just the start of the school year,” Hawkins said in the news release. “Last year, we saw an incredible increase in violence, which is the sad state of our national dialogue today. Frankly, we believe it will get worse this year, and we are making plans to protect both student free speech rights and those who stand for them.”

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