Spanish police have arrested an American woman for issuing death threats against the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking at a science event on the island of Tenerife.
The 37-year-old suspect was detained in the municipality of Arona, on the most populous of the Canary Islands, on Wednesday – the same day that Hawking delivered his first lecture at the Starmus International Festival.
The woman, who has no prior record and had traveled to Tenerife by herself, could be facing a six-month prison sentence and immediate deportation for harassment and issuing serious threats against the famous scientist, legal sources told the Efe news agency.
Police investigators who searched her hotel room found a collection of esoteric items linked to religious extremism
The same sources said that one of the cosmologist’s children alerted authorities after detecting over 100 threatening messages on Twitter and in e-mails on Tuesday. The messages contained sentences such as “I am going to kill him.”
In her statement to the police, the woman apparently said that she loves Hawking and would never harm him.
Police investigators who searched her hotel room found a collection of esoteric items linked to religious extremism and contrary to Hawking’s theories denying the existence of God. They also found notes and documents detailing the scientist’s residence and workplace, and notebooks outlining precise plans on how to approach her target.
Sign up for our newsletter
EL PAÍS English Edition has launched a weekly newsletter. Sign up today to receive a selection of our best stories in your inbox every Saturday morning. For full details about how to subscribe, click here.
According to news agency Europa Press, the woman, who currently resides in Norway, has been following Hawking across the globe and may suffer from psychiatric problems.
Hawking’s Wednesday address had attracted long lines of people at the science and arts festival. The astrophysicist arrived on stage flanked by two members of the Spanish National Police, an unusual sight that caused some alarm among members of the audience. Outside the venue, other officers checked visitors’ bags.
That same day, the police arrested the alleged stalker at a hotel located very near the festival venue, the Pirámide de Arona, which contains one of the biggest auditoriums in Europe.
The woman had apparently been issuing threats against Hawking for years, but the situation got out of hand in recent days, when the threats proliferated over e-mail an in the social media.
“I am going to kill you.” read one of the messages. “I am right next to you and I can kill you,” said another.
The e-mails included specific plans to end the scientist’s life, the police said.
Sources close to Hawking told this newspaper that the scientist felt safe at all times, and played down the incident.
English version by Susana Urra.