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Utah State University threatened with school shooting over Sarkeesian appearance (updated)

An email sent to Utah State University officials threatens to terrorize the school with a deadly shooting over a talk to be delivered by feminist critic and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games creator Anita Sarkeesian, Polygon confirmed with the school's Center for Women and Gender Studies.

Sarkeesian is scheduled to speak at USU Oct. 15 for "Common Hour: Anita Sarkeesian." A member of the Center for Women and Gender Studies verified to Polygon that the email was sent to the center today, but could not offer more information. The school's Twitter account, meanwhile, added that the threat is being investigated with more details "to come soon."

We've reached out to Sarkeesian, police officials at the Utah State University Department of Public Safety and Ann Austin, one of the faculty members who reportedly received the email.

The Standard Examiner obtained a copy of the graphic email that was sent to staff, which promises "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if organizers did not cancel Sarkeesian's talk.

"If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women's Center," the message reads. "I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs."

The Montreal Massacre, also known as the École Polytechnique Massacre, took place in 1989 in Canada. Marc Lépine, who the email references, killed 14 women, injured 10 and killed four men in the name of "fighting feminism" before committing suicide.

The sender claims to be a student at the school, and adds "you will never find me, but you may all soon know my name."

This latest threat marks yet another in a growing history for Sarkeesian herself and women in the video game industry at large. In August, following the release of another episode of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, Sarkeesian fled her home after receiving "some very scary threats" against her and her family. During GeekGirlCon, which took place this past weekend, officials confirmed to Polygon that a threat was made over her appearance there.

"GeekGirlCon ​became​ aware of the threats and actively work​ed​ with authorities​, along with Anita​," a spokesperson told Polygon. "Our highest priority is a safe and fun con experience for all of our attendees, contributors, and volunteers."

Prior to that, Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn became the subject of a large-scale campaign of threats and harassment. Only days ago, developer and Giant Spacekat head Brianna Wu left her home in the face of serious threats, which police are actively investigating.

Update: Sarkeesian has canceled her USU talk.

On Twitter, Sarkeesian added, "Forced to cancel my talk at USU after receiving death threats because police wouldn't take steps to prevent concealed firearms at the event."

Update 2: Polygon spoke with USU executive director of public relations and marketing Tim Vitale, who confirmed that the email threat was sent to "five or six" members of the Center for Women and Gender Studies before being more broadly sent to PR, alumni and other campus offices. Vitale said that both employees at the university and police believe it is unlikely the threat was sent by a student.

"It didn't seem like a student to any of us who read it," Vitale told Polygon. "[The student claim] is kind of oddly placed in the email, and it's chunkily done.

"It didn't seem out of the norm for things she had received before. It was more in line with that than a student from our own institution."

Vitale added that prior to the threat, police officials were already making preparations to provide security to Sarkeesian due to the history of harassment.

"It is something they considered and take seriously," he said.

Sarkeesian canceled her talk after speaking to authorities. Utah cannot prevent those with a legal permit to conceal and carry from entering the building. Precautions taken would have included beefing up police presence, both with officers in uniform and undercover, and not allowing attendees to carry large bags or bookbags.

"The predicament there is that the state of Utah has a law that a person with a legal, concealed carry permit cannot be kept from entering any public building," Vitale said. "It's including universities ... that's the law. Our police just followed the law."

University authorities contacted the FBI Cyber Terrorism Task Force, who are now involved in the investigation. Vitale said that the university took the threat "extremely seriously," and that the level of threat presented is rare.

"I can't say never, but I've been here 17 years in the public relations office and I've never seen anything like this."

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