ALF claims damage responsibility
Letter threatens 7 UI faculty members
Friday, November 19, 2004

By Kristen Schorsch
Iowa City Press-Citizen


Seven University of Iowa psychology faculty members were threatened in a letter Thursday by an animal rights group that has claimed responsibility for removing hundreds of animals and destroying research and equipment last weekend.

"Let this message be clear to all who victimize the innocent: We're watching. And by axe, drill, or crowbar -- we're coming through your door," the animal rights group, Animal Liberation Front, wrote in the letter e-mailed to media nationwide Thursday.

The worldwide group claimed responsibility for vandalism discovered Sunday at Seashore Hall and Spence Laboratories. In the e-mail, ALF said its members removed 88 mice and 313 rats from a campus building and destroyed all information regarding animal research by targeted faculty at UI.

Damage estimates are in the tens of thousands of dollars.

FBI spokesman Jeff Tarpinian said he could not confirm the authenticity of the letter or if the details of the vandalism matched claims in the letter, citing an ongoing investigation. Agents have not determined where the e-mail was sent from, he said.

During a Thursday evening news conference, UI President David Skorton condemned the group for using intimidation tactics.

"We take this very seriously, but we will not be bullied," Skorton said. "We will not be stopped from doing the work that we have done based on public support, based on rigorous peer review and based on the finest traditions of science that represent this university and this part of the university."

In the five-page letter, ALF detailed whose research they destroyed, how and why. Those targeted were seven UI members in the department of psychology, including assistant, associate and full professors. The group listed researchers' contact information, including names of spouses, cell phone numbers and personal e-mail accounts, at the bottom of the letter.

"Our goal is total abolition of all animal exploitation," the letter stated. "Achieved in the short term by delivering the 401 animals from UI's chamber of hell."

ALF alleges its members entered two animal labs and three vivisectors' offices and destroyed all contents relating to animals. The animals removed were examined, treated by a veterinarian and placed in homes, the letter states.

Skorton and other school officials would not comment Thursday on specifics regarding damage estimates, whether the incident was an inside job or about UI's security systems, which the group alleges it bypassed.

"We've had the building really for less than 24 hours," said David Wynes, UI associate vice president for research. "In some ways, this is day one for us because the crime scene investigation is taking priority."

Spence Laboratories is a wing of Seashore Hall, which houses UI's psychology, sociology and journalism departments near Gilbert Street and Iowa Avenue. School officials initially reported an undetermined number of rats and mice were missing and more than 30 computers were damaged. Other offices in the building include the Audiovisual Center, Internal Audit and the Ombudsperson.

Violet Lucca, 19, a UI junior, is a lab assistant to one of the researcher's whose work allegedly was damaged. This type of destruction, she said, does not help the cause of animal rights.

"This won't cause the labs to be shut down, and will only further defame legitimate animal rights organizations that believe in more pragmatic approaches," said Lucca, who added she believes in animal rights and is a vegan, meaning she eats plant products only. "Self-righteous people who think that by destroying years of hard work they will be comparable to those who liberated concentration camps are just egotistical and selfish."

The FBI's on-site investigation has concluded, said Bill Decker, UI interim vice president for research. UI employees now are assessing damage, doing inventory and cleanup, he said, adding he hopes to have students and faculty back in the building within days. School officials have said the building would reopen for classes after Thanksgiving break, which ends Nov. 29.

School officials are offering to review security systems in other UI colleges and departments, Decker said.