Sheriff: Professor faked threats
Decatur instructor at Calhoun charged with felony threat-making, placed on administrative leave
By Franklin Harris
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A Calhoun Community College instructor, who allegedly was the target of threatening voice-mail messages, was arrested Friday afternoon and charged with making the threats against herself, said the Limestone County Sheriff's Department.
At 3:30 p.m., sheriff's investigators arrested Penelope Blankenship, 43, of Decatur and charged her with making a terrorist threat, a Class C felony, said Sheriff Mike Blakely in a press statement Friday evening.
The arrest followed an investigation into threats received by Calhoun earlier this week.
According to the Sheriff's Department, Blankenship was believed to have been the target of a threat made against her on her voice mail at the main college campus near Decatur. Campus police also received a threatening phone call in connection with the same incident.
The caller was initially identified as a former student of Blankenship's, but further investigation indicated that the calls came from Blankenship herself, through Calhoun's switchboard to campus security and to her own voice mail, the press statement said.
According to the sheriff, Blankenship has admitted her involvement to investigators.
Calhoun's Web site identifies Blankenship as a criminal justice/psychology instructor. Calhoun spokeswoman Janet Martin said late Friday that Blankenship is retired from a law enforcement agency, but Martin didn't recall which one.
The Sheriff's Department released Blankenship on $5,000 bond.
The threatening voice messages made reference to Monday's Virginia Tech shootings, in which a gunman killed 32 people before killing himself. They then said, "you next," according to a campus police incident report.
Campus police withheld Blankenship's name from that incident report.
Martin said Wednesday that the person who left the voice mail didn't identify herself but that the threatened instructor, whom she didn't name at the time, said she recognized the voice.
Martin also said campus police had the student's picture so that they could recognize her if she came onto the campus.
Thursday afternoon, Limestone County Investigator Stanley McNatt interviewed a Lawrence County woman in connection with the threats.
Calhoun officials have identified the woman as a former Calhoun student who withdrew from class during the current semester.
Officials with the Limestone County Sheriff's Department were not available Friday night, and it is not yet known why Blankenship allegedly named the Lawrence County student.
The student, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said she and Blankenship had their differences but that she thought Blankenship was a good teacher and a friend.
"And I think she is still probably a good teacher to this day," she said.
"I don't hold any resentment toward her making allegations against me," she continued. "I'm just confused."
A call to Calhoun President Marilyn Beck on Friday night was not immediately returned.
Later Friday, Martin called the newspaper and said the college had placed Blankenship on administrative leave.
For now, she will continue to receive her pay from the college, in accordance state policy, Martin said.
Blankenship is not to enter Calhoun's campuses until further notice without permission from either Beck or Teresa Hamilton, vice president for instruction and student services, Martin said.
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