UPDATED: 2:03 p.m.
COLUMBIA — An anonymous tip led to the arrest of two MU students Tuesday night in connection with the scattering of cotton balls in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.
MU police officers arrested freshman Sean Fitzgerald, 19, and senior Zachary Tucker, 21, on suspicion of tampering in the second degree, a Class D Felony. The incident was classified as a hate crime, which carries harsher penalties.
Both students have been temporarily suspended pending the result of the university conduct process, according to a statement released Wednesday morning and e-mailed to students from the MU Chancellor.
Black Culture Center Director Nathan Stephens said he trusts that MU Police followed their leads and tips in the proper manner.
"We have to understand law enforcement doesn't arbitrarily arrest someone," Stephens said. "We have to trust the arrest was the result of a rigorous process."
Even though the arrest helps, Stephens said Monday's town hall meeting, where institutional values were reiterated, was a more relevant event in helping the university move past this incident.
"Even if the arrest didn't happen, Monday went a long way to help us move past this," Stephens said.
Missouri Students Association President Tim Noce said the arrest showed that the Police Department has been working hard on the case.
"When I heard about it, I breathed a little bit easier," Noce said. "It made me feel that there was some direct justice."
"When a bad event does happen, you not only need to press forward, but believe the right thing will eventually happen," Noce added.
Noce said there was no question that it was a hate crime and agreed with the charge.
"I'm not sure whether it was done as a joke or with malice," Noce said. "Regardless of that, it had a racial intent to it."
"I'm happy the arrest was made and taken seriously and they were not just taken in for questioning," said Yantezia Patrick, co-chairwoman of Four Front Minority Presidents Council. Patrick was outspoken and drew applause and cheers at Monday's town hall meeting about the incident at the Black Culture Center. Patrick is a former Missourian staff member.
Commander Michael Waldhauser said Fitzgerald and Tucker were members of Navy ROTC and both were midshipmen. They haad been in the program throughout their time at MU, he said.
Waldhauser explained that midshipmen take a course together and interact on a regular basis through other structured events such as physical training. Waldhauser could not comment on whether they are friends.
Both are on "interim leave of absence," pending investigation, according to a Navy ROTC news release. If they are removed from the university, the release said, they will be removed from the program.
Last fall, Fitzgerald appeared in a Mizzou Live Wire Blog post about the military and MU.
Fitzgerald's residence at MU is listed as Laws Hall, according to the MU directory.
Tucker lives at Foxfire Apartments in Columbia.
Both were booked into the Boone County Jail and released on $4,500 bond each on Wednesday.