Police: Man releases stink bomb at Rochester pro-life event

The incident began with a report of a suspicious container with liquid inside left inside an occupied theater.

Hill Theatre.jpg
Hill Theatre at RCTC was evacuated Wednesday night over concerns of a chemical exposure. The college theater was playing host to a pro-life event. Chris Miksánek / Special to Forum News Service

ROCHESTER, Minn. —A Rochester man was arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats after police say he left off a stink bomb during a pro-life event at Rochester Community and Technical College Hill Theatre Wednesday night.

Samuel VanderWiel, 19, was arrested on suspicion of felony terrorist threats, misdemeanor fifth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and public nuisance. As of Thursday morning, he was being held at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center.

The Rochester Fire and Police departments as well as RCTC security and building management were called around 7:50 p.m. to the Hill Theatre for a report of a suspicious container with liquid inside left inside an occupied theater, according to the Rochester Fire Department.

About 50 people had evacuated the theater and were waiting outside of the building when emergency crews arrived. Firefighters evaluated those on scene for possible medical issues from exposure to the unidentified liquid or fumes. VanderWiel had been detained by campus security until police arrived.

Police believe VanderWiel made a stink bomb in a water bottle and left it in the auditorium. Three people suffered headaches and chest irritation as a result. None were transported by ambulance, according to the fire department.


Rochester Police Capt. Casey Moilanen said witnesses reported that VanderWiel was acting suspicious and nervous and then left an open water bottle in the theater. A short time later, a noxious smell was in the theater and it was evacuated.

VanderWiel is believed to have acted on his own and allegedly tried to get other people to protest the event. He reportedly had also planned on throwing eggs at a display but didn’t, according to Moilanen.

Following the theater evacuation, firefighters found a water bottle with a small amount of liquid inside. With their handheld monitors, crews received a slight reading of ammonia. Moilanen said the bottle had ammonia and another chemical in it, which made sulfide gas causing a rotten egg smell.

The department's Chemical Assessment Team was called to do further monitoring but found no additional hazards. As a precaution, crews also searched several classrooms in the vicinity of the theater. Nothing else was found.

Following the search, people were allowed back in the theater.

A 40 Days for Life event was being held there. 40 Days for Life is an internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful all-day vigil in front of abortion businesses, according to the organization.

Samuel VanderWiel

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