Agriculture Hall

Frequently asked questions

What was the attack?

At 8:15 p.m. New Year’s Eve 1999, 911 operators received a call of a loud explosion at Agriculture Hall on the Michigan State University campus. Officers arrived to find a fire blazing on the third floor of the northeast side of Agriculture Hall.

The fire was brought under control within about two hours.

What caused the fire?

Officials determined it to be arson.

What was attacked?

The fire consumed offices of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) housed at MSU. The fire was started in the office of its director, Catherine Ives.

The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility, claiming Ives had been targeted because her project pursued genetic crop engineering and was designed “to lobby developing countries to abandon their current agricultural practices and to rely on genetically engineered plants and thus corporations like Monsanto.”

What was damaged?

The fire caused extensive damage to the third and fourth floors of Agriculture Hall and destroyed slides, papers, books, lectures and other important documents collected and written by Ives during more than six years of research.

There were no injuries in the fire.

Cost of the damage?

It cost nearly $1 million to repair Agriculture Hall, as well as provide additional security. The repair money was drawn from general university funds.

What is the ABSP?

ABSP is a federally funded project that works with private and public institutions to enhance the use, management and commercialization of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries. The ABSP office at MSU was not a research facility but an office responsible for administering the ABSP program, damage was limited to project data, most of which was duplicated in other offices on campus.

At the time, Ives had received more than $20 million for the project. Nearly 90 percent had come from the U.S. Agency for International Development, with the remainder coming from matching MSU and private sector funds, as well as small grants. Monsanto Corp. had only provided a one-time sum of $2,000 to send five African students to a conference on biotechnology.

What impact did the attack have on work?

The ABSP group and neighboring offices in the Institute of International Agriculture were forced to relocate for eight months, but were up and running in four to six weeks. About 30 workers in Agriculture Hall were disrupted.

What has since changed about campus security?

MSU continues to adopt a policy of “heightened awareness” to researchers since the attack, including keeping labs locked when not in use, questioning strangers and keeping ears open for questions designed to compromise security.

Are there other instances of domestic terrorism at MSU?

Yes. On Feb. 28, 1992, offices of two faculty members were firebombed in Anthony Hall and campus mink research facilities were vandalized extensively. While there were no injuries, two students were in the building that evening who escaped unharmed.

The fire destroyed the office of animal science researchers Richard Aulerich and Karen Chou. While Aulerich was the target, Chou lost years of research which was aimed at testing animal DNA as a method of minimizing live animal experimentation.

Damaged was assessed at $1.2 million. The Animal Liberation Front, speaking through the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, claimed responsibility.

In July 1993 Rodney Coronado was indicted by a federal grand jury for the Anthony Hall fire. In March 1995, Coronado, in a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting arson in connection with the MSU fire, as well as to crimes at other sites. He was sentenced to two concurrent 57-month prison terms. He also was sentenced to paying $2.5 million in restitution to MSU and to other institutions damaged in ALF-related raids.

Coronado has been released on parole, but in December 2007 was returned to prison for a year after pleading guilty in federal court to demonstrating how to start fires with homemade devices during a public address.

*Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to read PDF documents.