A ricin scare in a Creighton University apartment building prompted officials to evacuate that building and shut down a hospital emergency room where the woman who reportedly made the ricin went for treatment.
A 20-year-old Creighton student told workers in the ER at Creighton University Medical Center-University Campus, 2412 Cuming St., that she had tried to make the poison in an attempt to harm herself.
Police were contacted about the incident just before 8:55 p.m. A friend of the student had called Creighton public safety after the student said that she had tried to commit suicide by ingesting a hazardous substance on Tuesday, according to a police incident report.
It has been reported that a student produced ricin in a room in Davis Square. Omaha Fire evacuated the residents and a hazmat team is on scene. Please avoid this area until further notice.— Creighton University (@Creighton) January 15, 2021
The student told staff that the ricin-making materials still were in her dorm room. That prompted officials to shut down the ER and evacuate Davis Square apartments, which is near 20th and Burt Streets.
The ER was locked down because of possible ricin exposure, said Officer Joe Nickerson, an Omaha police spokesman. The fire department, Omaha police and Creighton campus security then evacuated Davis Square.
About 50 Creighton students were moved into other campus housing, said Cindy Workman, a Creighton spokeswoman.
A hazardous materials crew cleaned the building. The students who live in Davis Square were allowed back in late Friday morning after the cleanup was complete, Workman said.
Davis Square, which can accommodate up to 260 students, is housing a comparatively low number of students because classes aren’t in session, Workman said.
The CDC says ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury.
Dr. Ron Kirschner, the medical director of the Nebraska Regional Poison Center and a medical toxicologist, said ricin can affect various bodily organs and can cause death if a person ingests enough of it.
During Kirschner’s medical fellowship, he helped treat a man who came across what turned out to be castor beans and chewed and swallowed one or two of them. He experienced severe vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. He also suffered kidney abnormalities and muscle breakdowns, but he recovered, Kirschner said.
It turned out that the man’s wife was planning to plant the castor beans in her garden. The castor oil plant is a perennial flowering plant that has broad, unusually shaped leaves.
Kirschner said police and fire officials didn’t need to evacuate the Creighton apartment building because of the ricin, which must be ground up and ingested to cause damage. Officials may have had concerns about other potential threats, he said.
World-Herald photographer Chris Machian and staff writer Rick Ruggles contributed to this report.