S. Ill. student accused of VaTech-like threat attempt seemed normal

Southern Illinois Edwardsville Whitney Curtis, The Associated Press


Southern Illinois Edwardsville Whitney Curtis, The Associated Press

By Jim Suhr

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – He seemed in many ways a typical college student – president of his fraternity at Southern Illinois University, an aspiring rapper who wrote about finding a girlfriend who could cook. His favorite book was the Bible.

But Olutosin Oduwole also had not-so-typical interests, like buying and selling guns on the Internet. A sale of an M-16 machine gun that never materialized brought charges of fraud and theft earlier this month. And a court document says he was seen walking around campus wearing a bullet-resistant vest in May.

Then came the news this week: Inside his car, found disabled on the university campus in this St. Louis suburb, police said they found a handwritten note threatening a “murderous rampage” similar to the one in April at Virginia Tech that left 32 people and the gunman dead.

On Wednesday – Oduwole’s 22nd birthday – he pleaded not guilty to making a terrorist threat, a felony. He was being held on a total $1.1 million bail – $1 million of that for the terrorist threat charge, $100,000 on the other charges.

While Oduwole’s friends and others say the purchase of weapons and his violent rap lyrics add up to a misunderstanding, police suspect they have in custody someone who was intent on carrying out the most terrible of crimes.

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“The note was just one piece of the puzzle,” said Otis Steward, an investigator in nearby Wood River who said Oduwole’s allegedly fraudulent sale of a gun he never owned and his thirst lately for more firepower raised the level of police concern about him. At the time of his arrest, federal authorities had been investigating a gun dealer’s concerns that Oduwole seemed overly eager to receive guns he had purchased online.

That alleged plot was revealed, authorities say, on a piece of paper found inside Oduwole’s car July 20. Rap lyrics were scrawled on one side of the sheet and part of the flipside, where the words authorities found troubling were found.

The note, police say, demanded payment to a PayPal account, threatening that “if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next seven days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NO JOKE.”

In the note, the writer suggested the shooting would target a “prestigious” university, but that word was crossed out. There was no direct mention of the 13,500-student Southern Illinois University in this city about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis.

Back at his university apartment, police said they discovered a loaded gun and, according to a search warrant, a photograph of Oduwole flashing gang signs. Police also seized two passports, each in Oduwole’s name.

All that came on top of a tip from a gun dealer to federal authorities about a week prior to Oduwole’s arrest concerned about his eagerness to receive several semiautomatic weapons he had ordered.

ATF agent Larry Washington said Oduwole was legally entitled to purchase the firearms, but federal authorities, with help from the dealer, intercepted the weapons and knew they would not make their way to Oduwole. They were investigating the concerns at the time of his arrest.

Then there is the MySpace page that appears to belong to Oduwole. There, set over a heavy beat, are songs charged with references to violence, sex, drugs and life in public housing projects.

“Pair of AKs waiting in the closet/ when I spray in the cribs/ sitting down counting money that I made,” a male voice raps in a song called “Projects” that also references drugs and strippers.

“He liked to write music, not to hurt anybody,” explained a woman who identified herself as his mother, but declined to give her name when reached at the Olad Adult Day Program – a business Oduwole cited as his employer on a Facebook page listed under his name.

“He’s not a troubled kid.”

The woman said she knows the charges aren’t true, “but at the same time, the way the country is right now, they don’t give him a chance.”

Others linked to Oduwole agree with her.

“I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I understand that in this environment – post Sept. 11 – authorities don’t take any chances,” said John Cernkovich, who until Wednesday was Oduwole’s attorney in the fraud and theft case. “Unfortunately, (he) now is in custody because of that.”

The arrest was an “absolute misunderstanding,” said Steve Holman, a 24-year-old SIU senior who identified himself as Oduwole’s friend. He declined to discuss it further.

Oduwole has had his difficulties at the school. After he started attending classes in the 2005-06 year, he sat out a year on academic probation, according to Greg Conroy, a university spokesman who said Oduwole was taking summer classes.

But it appears he was popular. He had recently been elected president of Iota Phi Theta fraternity, Conroy said. And on a Facebook page for a Tosin Oduwole at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, hundreds of friends are listed, as are a daily Bible verse and boasts of Oduwole’s Nigerian heritage.

The page paints a picture of a typical student. He cited interests that include “music cars, football real estate, day dreaming, eating bar-b-cue…” He wrote he was a fan of rap music, R&B, and performers such as Patti Labelle, and his favorite television shows included The Sopranos to CNN Headline News.

While the university listed Oduwole’s permanent address as Maplewood, N.J., the woman identifying herself as his mother works in the St. Louis area, and a Facebook page appearing to belong to Oduwole says he’s from St. Louis.