Flower shop employee fired for death threat delivered through her e-mail account

An employee of 1-800-Flowers.com has been fired after an e-mailed death threat was linked to her account.

The crudely worded e-mail was sent Sunday to Paul “PZ” Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota Morris, who is known for his criticism of religion and creationism.

It was one of several hostile messages he had received following a controversial July 8 blog posting.

The address on the e-mail showed that it came from Melanie Kroll at 1-800-Flowers.com, an online floral delivery service.

The note gave Myers until the first of the month to resign from his position at the University. “You have two choices,” the e-mail read. “[Y]ou can quit your job for the good of the children. Or you can get your brains beat in.”

On Monday, Kroll send Myers a confusing e-mail, explaining that while the threat was sent from her computer, but that she didn’t write it. “It seems an e-mail went out from my work account,” she wrote in an e-mail message obtained by IDG News. “I apologize and will look into the issue.”

She said that her work e-mail was set as the default address on her computer and that is why the it appeared to come from her, adding that the threat was “empty” because “the people who could have used my PC are harmless.”

After an internal investigation, the Internet retailer decided to terminate Kroll’s position, according to Steven Jarmon, the company’s vice president of brand communications. “All 1-800-Flowers.com associates are instructed that any misuse of company systems or equipment for personal purposes is potential grounds for dismissal,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Kroll did not respond to an e-mailed request seeking comment for this story.

Myers, a self-described “rabid new atheist,” had been getting hate mail after blogging in support of University of Central Florida student Webster Cook, who is facing suspension after removing a communion wafer from a Mass held on-campus. Once blessed, these Eucharist wafers must be consumed immediately and Church leaders have said that Cook’s actions were offensive.

In the post, Myers wrote that the Eucharist wafer, which for Catholics is the transubstantiated body of Christ, was “just a cracker.”

After being inundated with threatening e-mail, he decided to start posting full technical details of the messages, including the IP addresses of the mail servers involved. Although the sender address in e-mail messages can be spoofed, the IP address showed that Kroll’s mail came from a mail server on 1-800-Flowers.com’s network.

Myers did not take any satisfaction in Kroll’s dismissal. “This was not my intent to get somebody fired,” he said. “She apparently did something stupid which I don’t have sympathy for. I would just rather not see people getting fired over an e-mail message.”

“Think before you send”, is an important e-mail policy that any computer user should always keep in mind, according to Bill Elliott, director of Fox Group Telecom Consulting based in Mt. Albert, Ontario. He warned that even messages sent many years ago can come back to haunt its sender.

Elliott says online message writers should ask these questions before they hit the send button:

Ask the following questions, Elliott advices, before sending out your email:

1. Who is copied on this email?

2. There might it be forwarded?

3. Who may be included in a “reply all” response?

4. What are the implications of the content including the historical information in a ‘string’ of emails being read by someone else?

5. If this information ended up on the front page of a newspaper, what are the implications to the writer and the organization?

6. Is the content professional, ethical, accurate and defensible in court?

Newsdesk edit by: Steven Schwankert

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