A former Valdosta State University employee is in custody, charged by criminal complaint for sending threatening emails to victims at universities across the country.
Shawn Charles Merdinger, 50, of Lake Park, Georgia, had an initial appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Weigle from the Tift County Jail, where the defendant is currently in custody. The hearing was conducted remotely via videoconferencing due to social distancing restrictions in place since the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). A detention hearing is set for Thursday, April 23 at 2:30 p.m.
The complaint alleges that Merdinger sent several emails between April 16 and April 19 to addresses affiliated with individuals employed at the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Indiana, University of Texas, University of Texas at Austin, the University System of Georgia and Valdosta State University. The messages contained threats of extreme violence to the victims and himself, as well as general threats of harm, including a specific statement targeted toward the University of Texas at Austin emailed on April 18, “I am going to roll on faculty and execute you in your homes in alphabetical order. You might as well shut that place down. Here on out, any school faculty or student is going to be a personal, high value target for me. I’m coming in there. You better run.” Merdinger was taken into custody by the FBI on April 19 at his Lake Park home.
“Maintaining the safety of our citizens is a top priority for our office and law enforcement throughout the Middle District of Georgia,” said Charlie Peeler, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “I am grateful to the FBI and our state and local law enforcement partners for reacting quickly to shut down this alleged threat.”
“The FBI must take any threat to human life seriously,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “This arrest would not have been possible without help from the Valdosta State University Police Department, the Lowndes County Sheriff Office and the universities who received these terrorizing threats.”
A criminal complaint is allegation of unlawful conduct. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of competent jurisdiction. This case is being investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McCullers.