SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who was once a promising college basketball coach has been arrested after police said he forced the evacuation of an elementary school with what he claimed was a trunk full of explosives, authorities said Tuesday.
After three hours of negotiations, no weapons or explosives were found and no injuries were reported at the school about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. About 250 students, along with faculty, were evacuated from Eagle Valley Elementary on Monday afternoon.
The suspect, Christopher Dewitt Craig, 35, of Eagle Mountain, was a player and coach until police in Colorado issued a warning about three years ago saying he’d been describing himself as an “Islamist jihadist.” The warning came months after his resignation from a head coaching job at Midland College in Texas.
Craig drove up to the school in Eagle Mountain, Utah, on Monday wearing a long, light-green tunic, a white cloth wrapped around his head and a knit face mask, police said.
He told a school secretary to evacuate the building, then spoke to police negotiators about “the evils of society,” and unspecified mistreatment before he surrendered himself, said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
Craig’s motives are still under investigation, but may be related to mental health issues, he said. Police also believe he sent emails to several news organizations shortly before the threat decrying what he called racism against white police officers, among other things.
No attorney was immediately listed for Craig in court records, and no publicly listed phone number for him was immediately available.
Those who knew him described a talented coach whose career was on the rise before it was apparently derailed by personal struggle, according to the El Paso Times.
“This is an American tragedy,” Rus Bradburd, a former assistant basketball coach at the University of Texas at El Paso, told the paper. “He just needs help. It’s heartbreaking.”
Craig was a player at UTEP and Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, before he went into coaching.
He served as head basketball coach at what’s now Utah State University Eastern in Price, Utah, from 2007 to 2010. He went on to become an assistant at Northern Colorado University, and then served as head coach in Midland College in Texas before he resigned in 2013 for personal reasons.
Several more run-ins with the law followed, including an arrest in Price the next year after police said he drove his car onto a school playground.
Craig was booked into the Utah County Jail on Monday for investigation of making a threat of terrorism, interfering with an arresting officer, failure to disclose identity, disrupting operations of a school and disorderly conduct. He’s been held on $25,000 cash-only bail.
This story has been corrected to show a previous arrest in Utah connected to allegations of driving onto a school playground was in Price, not Eagle Mountain.