By Michael Hartwell
GARDNER -- A Mount Wachusett Community College student from Fitchburg was arrested last week on charges that he sent letters to a school official threatening to kill specific MWCC staff members and bystanders with bombs or guns.
Michael Ventura, 32, of 23 Patriot Road, Fitchburg, was arraigned Thursday in Gardner District Court on charges of making a bomb or hijack threat and threatening to commit a crime, according to court documents. He was held for a dangerousness hearing Friday to determine if it was safe to release him.
Judge Arthur F. Haley decided to release Ventura with several conditions: He must wear a GPS monitoring device, stay at least two miles away from MWCC and the people named in the letters, report to probation once a week, and continue to receive counseling.
Ventura is allowed to participate with MWCC officials for ongoing disciplinary procedures, and communicate with the school electronically to transfer his credits to another school. He has to return to court for a pretrial hearing June 20.
Ann McDonald, executive vice president of MWCC, sent an email to staff members Friday acknowledging a noticeable increase in the number of campus police officers on duty over the past two weeks. That message did not mention a specific issue, but said there had been an investigation of "an incident and person of concern" on campus.
"We believe that the person alleged to be responsible for this action has been addressed, and all of the employees that were directly involved in the situation have been updated as to the status of the case," the email stated.
McDonald would not confirm that the incident referred to Ventura.
According to documents related to the case filed in Gardner District court:
n A staff member at MWCC received a handwritten letter April 29 mentioning the staff member and three other MWCC employees. The letter said the author could make bombs and kill the four named people.
n MWCC officials suspected Ventura, who is the only student who had recently dealt with all four of the MWCC staff members named in the letter.
n The staff member reported the letter to the Athol barracks of the State Police and said he thought Ventura's letter was a bluff.
n Incidents in which MWCC had dealt with Ventura include a case six months ago in which he allegedly pursued a specific female acquaintance who was not interested in him; reports of unwanted touching and poor hygiene at a school dance; reported incidents of his making frequent romantic requests at many different female classmates; an incident in which he was confronted by a school official who allegedly spotted him ripping down a flu-prevention poster; and a scene at a different school dance at which he made a vulgar gesture to one of the MWCC staff members he had dealt with before.
n Ventura had filed a complaint with the school about the staff members who had confronted or dealt with him through disciplinary proceedings, and he was informed April 25 that his complaint would not go any further.
n He was interviewed by State Police in the Leominster barracks, where he indicated he wanted a lawyer, and police ended the interview.
n On May 14, the same MWCC employee received another letter, stating six names and saying "... and those who unfortunately will be around you will all die too." It added, "I know how to make bombs. I can get guns. I have knives."
n Also on May 14, the MWCC staff member received a voice-mail message from Ventura saying he's quitting the school because of the way the school employees treat him. The police report indicated his voice was noticeably angry in that message.
n A warrant was issued for Ventura, and he was arrested shortly thereafter.
McDonald said the school responded to the incident using the same standard practices that have been in place for several years.
MWCC has its graduation ceremony tonight. McDonald said the commencement will not be affected, and the school will continue the practice it established last year of checking containers like backpacks and not allowing strollers inside.
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