BELLINGHAM — Hundreds of college-age revelers threw projectiles at Bellingham police, who responded with pepper spray to disperse them late Saturday and early Sunday, officials said.
At least three people were arrested during the melee, according to Bellingham police Sgt. Mike Scanlon. He said he didn’t know if there were any injuries.
“There was drinking, it became disorderly and pretty much an out-and-out riot,” he said.
In a joint statement, Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard and student-government President Carly Roberts said they were “stunned” by the night’s events “because it is so out of character” with the university’s spirit of service to the community.
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According to WWU, three people have been arrested so far, none of them WWU students. But police are still reviewing surveillance videos, and any students found to have been involved in “lawless and destructive behavior” could be kicked out of school, the statement said.
The unrest began as police dispersed a noisy party that had drawn a few hundred people, Scanlon said.
Lauren Boushey, 20, a Western Washington University junior who was at the apartment-complex party, said it broke up around 9 p.m. and police officers politely asked people to go home.
“It was set up to be … this really nice night and nothing reckless or ridiculous like it turned into,” she said Sunday, noting the party wasn’t connected to the riots and that people lingered and a crowd started forming a block away.
Many of the revelers then moved to nearby Laurel Park, where they were joined by more people, Scanlon said, calling it a “large, intoxicated, disorderly crowd.”
The situation “finally boiled over,” he said. “They began hurling projectiles at police.”
Up to 500 people had converged on the park as police worked to disperse them, at one point using pepper spray, Scanlon said.
It took about 45 minutes to clear the area and restore order.
Boushey said she saw several people throwing bottles and beer cans at police and provoking them. She saw multiple officers get hit by bottles.
“They got this horrible, ignorant mob mentality,” she said. “It was so sad and disrespectful to watch.”
In WWU’s joint statement, Shepard and Roberts said the university community is “straining to understand why something like this happened.”
“Such behavior has no place at Western. … Should any of our students be found to have engaged in lawless and destructive behavior, they have no place at Western.”