U of M Twin Cities threats: Suspect apprehended in Chippewa County

What began as a safety threat to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (U of M) campus, then became an hours-long standoff in a small western Minnesota town, which ended with an arrest late Thursday afternoon.

There was a heavy police presence outside the suspect's home. According to the Chippwea County Sheriff's Office, after a standoff, the suspect was taken into custody "without incident".

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A large police presence, including a SWAT vehicle outside a home in Chippewa County. 

From: FOX 9

The first U of M Safe-U Emergency Alert came around 7:30 a.m. on Thursday saying that the department had received a "specific threat" to shoot people on campus from 41-year-old Joseph Mark Rongstad.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the suspect's home sheriff agency are investigating the incident, a SAFE-U alert said. The Chippewa County Sheriff's Office says it learned of a "social media post involving a threat to sheriff's office staff and students" at the U of M Thursday morning, and it has "actively responded and is investigating the situation."

In an updated SAFE-U alert, the university asked all non-essential or non-critical employees to work from home, and students are encouraged to stay clear of campus until the situation is resolved. Previously, the SAFE-U alert said the U of M Twin Cities campus was open, with all buildings accessible by UCards only. In an 11:21 a.m. update, police said: "Public Safety is monitoring the progress of the investigation and search for the suspect. The campus community is advised to continue to avoid campus." 

In a SAFE-U update at 1:02 p.m., the U of M said the Chippewa County Sheriff located the suspect "and have him contained in their county," so activities on campus resumed normal operations. 

The threats came from the Facebook account of Rongstad’s landscaping business. One post warned that students would die if all U of M campuses were not on a total lock down by sun up. 

A second post read, "Here we go America, I am heading out from Watson MN to the U of M Minneapolis Mn to start killing kids."

After noting it only takes two and a half hours to get to campus, he also wrote, in all caps, "I’m coming for ya kids and it’s going to get bloody."

By early Thursday afternoon, Rongstad posted again on Facebook, this time a picture out his window of a SWAT vehicle parked outside. He also posted a picture of wires on his ceiling that he claimed were connected to explosives in the basement, should law enforcement try to come in.

Rongstad's lengthy criminal history

In 2016, Rongstad was charged with trespassing and burglary of the mayor of Watson, Minnesota. The West Central Tribune reported in October 2016 that Rongstad was the former mayor of Watson. He pleaded guilty to those charges, court records show.

Rongstad was charged in February 2021 with burglary and criminal damage to property after he allegedly crashed a tractor into Watson Lutheran Church on Feb. 7, 2021. He was convicted of third-degree burglary in this case, court records show. 

His criminal history also includes traffic violation convictions, a felony drug conviction, driving while impaired, and a civil commitment for being mentally ill. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.