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Peculiar objects found at Brigham Young University that initially are treated like bombs, as was an old video-cassette recorder sitting under a Christmas tree Wednesday morning, usually aren't explosive.

But university police pull out all the stops to ensure students, administrators, faculty and employees are protected from the unknown.Bombs or bomb threats are not common at BYU. Only two actual incendiary devices were discovered on campus the past five years. One exploded, causing minor property damage.

BYU Police Capt. Mike Harroun said police have to take each situation seriously.

"A bomb could be hidden in virtually any kind of device," he said. "It's better to overreact than not be prepared."

The VCR placed in the Wilkinson Center east lounge Wednesday by a student playing a joke had several elements that flagged it as a possible explosive.

The machine was plugged into an electrical outlet, and the digital clock was running. It's placement under the tree was unexpected. It was discovered early in the morning. A postcard taped to the VCR was addressed to BYU President Rex Lee.

"If he'd planned it to be a bomb threat he couldn't have done it much better," BYU spokesman Brent Harker said.

A custodian noticed the VCR about 7:30 a.m. Police evacuated the building while the Provo Police bomb squad X-rayed the VCR and deactivated any potential explosives with a high-pressure water cannon.

The last real bomb discovered on campus, in June 1991, was carefully planned and placed on a book shelf at the Harold B. Lee Library. A library employee found the explosive hidden in a box made to look like a book. The Provo bomb squad determined it was functional before destroying it off-campus.

In February 1989, a homemade pipe bomb damaged a newspaper stand outside the Tanner Building. Three students later were arrested.

A fake bomb that drew much attention to the university was the one Cody Judy held to the head of LDS Church President Howard W. Hunter, who then was president of the church's Council of the Twelve, during a fireside at the Marriott Center in February 1993. Judy's "bomb" was a toy cellular telephone wrapped in tape. Judy is in the Utah State Prison.

BYU police a year ago called in the Provo bomb squad to determine whether an answering machine wrapped with tape found in the McKay Building was an explosive device, Harroun said. The building was cleared of people while police blasted it with the water cannon. It turned out to be just an answering machine.

On another occasion, campus mail workers were suspicious of a package that an X-ray showed to be a cactus.

Mail handlers and other employees attended a seminar given by the Secret Service, the Utah County sheriff's bomb squad and BYU Police two months ago on how to identify bombs. Police also encourage campus staff members to notify them about any objects that appear out of the ordinary.