Bombing suspect quiet, kept to himself
On Saturday afternoon, Penn State Altoona student and Juniata resident Steven Taylor contemplated the possibility of his life ending in catastrophic irony.
Taylor is taking classes on the GI bill, and he lived in the same apartment as Vladislav Miftakhov, who was charged this weekend with possessing a weapon of mass destruction and risking a catastrophe, after police found a homemade bomb and bomb-making equipment in his bedroom.
“I didn’t go through 12 years in the military and two wars to get blown up here,” Taylor said.
Miftakhov didn’t seem threatening, and gave no indication there was a problem like the one police have outlined, according to Taylor.
“He barely talked,” said Taylor, who echoed the “quiet” description that student after student applied to the Russian national, whose family lives in California.
Now, knowing what he knows, Taylor is relieved.
“[The bomb] could easily have killed my roommate and me,” he said.
Miftakhov was in the U.S. on a valid student visa, said college Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry, whose tone was reassuring.
“Information we have received so far has revealed no plans to use the potentially explosive materials against anyone, no indication that anyone was being targeted, and no threats were made,” Bechtel-Wherry stated in an email to students provided to the Mirror by University Relations Director Shari Routch.
Bechtel-Wherry suggested restraint.
“I ask that you not make assumptions or conclusions, be fair-minded and not foster rumors, and rely upon facts,” she wrote.
But students should call police if they know anything that could help the investigation, Bechtel-Wherry wrote.
If he had seen evidence, he
wouldn’t have hesitated to call, said Taylor, a criminal justice major.
The accused bombmaker seems to have had difficulties conforming to social norms, according to students who knew him.
Summer Walter got to know him when he hung around while dating an acquaintance.
“But then things started getting really weird,” Walter said.
Miftakhov would walk into their apartment uninvited, when Walter wasn’t there, she said.
At times, he would sit in her kitchen and text her in the next room about how weird he thought her friends – who were also present, and unlike him, had been invited – were, she said.
“It was really awkward,” she said.
Eventually, they asked him not to come around, she said.
Miftakhov’s own apartment mate Andrew Leff recalled Miftakhov coming unbidden to get food from the refrigerator on his side of the apartment building where they lived.
Miftakhov worked at the Port Sky cafe on campus.
“Did his job, kept to himself,” said student Shannon Baker.
He didn’t have many friends, said Tanapon Pernyao, who was in the same physics and engineering design classes.
His attendance at classes tended to be spotty, based on a class they had the previous semester, Pernyao added.
Miftakhov sat in front of Molly Vasek in art class and never talked, she said.
He barely responded once when the teacher tried to make a friendly joke with his nickname, “Vlad,” she said.
Despite his unusual behavior, Walter “absolutely” detected no prior indication that Miftakhov was capable of what police have charged him with.
Those charges now makes her “feel kind of strange,” she said.
Even now, however, she doesn’t think he would ever have hurt her, as there was no real enmity between them.
She suspects Miftakhov may have a “mental disorder.”
He’s at least “not very social,” she said.
She also suspects that he wanted the bomb only “as a toy.”
It’s hard to believe the furor took place at the “calm” Altoona campus, a friend of Walter’s said.
“I’m [just] happy it’s settled,” Taylor said. “And everyone here is safe.”