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Harvard dean says hoax emergency calls to student dorm are ‘deeply troubling and unnerving’

The Harvard University seniors who were victims of "swatting" calls in their dorm. Left to right, Jazmin Dunlap, Alexandra Rene, David Madzivanyika, Jarah Cotton. Suzanne Kreiter\Globe staffSuzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Three hoax phone calls made to Harvard University this week came from an anonymous male caller who said he had taken a female student hostage in a dormitory and had tried to kill her, the university said in statement e-mailed to students Wednesday.

Campus police officers responded to Leverett House in the pre-dawn hours of Monday and woke up two sleeping students and ordered them out of their suite at gunpoint and into a hallway, according to the statement that was provided to the Globe.

“While the caller’s intent might have been to create fear and chaos, we are grateful there was no actual threat,” Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana wrote. “This incident was deeply troubling and unnerving for the students involved and for our community.”


The statement, the university’s first response to the incident that happened at about 4 a.m. Monday at the dorm on DeWolfe Street, included a detailed account and “community update” from Chief Victor Clay of the Harvard University Police Department.

The department received the first of three calls at 3:23 a.m. “The caller stated that he had a female hostage who he had attempted to fatally injure, but that she was still alive,” the e-mail said.

Two other calls soon followed.

“The caller stated that he had been a student at Harvard this semester but had been ‘kicked out,’” according to the e-mail.

He said he was in a specific room number at Leverett House and was armed, according to the e-mail.

The caller first threatened to shoot officers who entered the room, and then said he was going to leave the room and that he would start shooting as he did so, Clay said.

“At approximately 4:15 a.m., HUPD officers knocked on the door of the room and announced their presence by stating ‘Harvard Police,’” Clay wrote. “The officers then opened the door with a key. Upon entry, the occupants were told to exit to the hallway, showing their hands as they did so.”


In separate interviews Monday, four students described the fear of being awakened by the sounds of heavily armed officers — several wearing helmets and armed with long guns — banging on doors, and being forced from their dorm suite while officers searched their rooms.

“We were all terrified — they had guns pointed at us,” student Jarah Cotton told the Globe. “Everybody was extremely frazzled. No one’s been asleep since.”

Jazmin Dunlap said three officers had their weapons aimed at her.

“I personally did not know that the Harvard University Police Department could actually enter our rooms with that much force,” Dunlap said.

Khurana, the dean, pledged to support students “during this difficult time” and included a list of online links to support services available on Harvard’s well-being website.

“Many members of our community are understandably scared, frustrated, angry, and upset that something like this could happen on Harvard’s campus,” Khurana wrote. “We understand that the implications, fears, and trauma of an incident like this land differently for the impacted students and for communities of color more broadly. The College will continue to work with our University partners to ensure a safe campus and to support you during this difficult time.”

Clay, the chief, said he realized the police presence at the dorm did “raise fears and anxiety” but that officers followed protocol based on their threat assessment.


Police called the cellphones of two of the students who lived in the room before entering, Clay said.

After getting no answer, they knocked, announced their presence as “Harvard Police,” and then entered with a key, he said.

“Again, following protocols, HUPD determined that it was necessary to enter the room to ensure the safety of the occupants,” Clay said.

“Entering a residential house is not something that HUPD does without cause or takes lightly,” Clay said. “The steps taken by HUPD are aligned with law enforcement protocols, which HUPD officers are trained on.”

Clay added: “The steps we take are based on an assessment of the level of potential threat to members of our community with regards to a potential public safety situation.”

Harvard’s hoax calls come amid a troubling surge of false emergency calls to police reporting active shooters and threats of violence at schools in Massachusetts and across the country.

So-called swatting calls — nicknamed for heavily armed teams of police officers — often trigger massive responses from law enforcement agencies and can also sow feelings of fear and anxiety among people caught in the middle.

The investigation into the Harvard “swatting” incident is ongoing, and HUPD is working with the FBI, Clay said.

John Hilliard of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Tonya Alanez can be reached at Follow her @talanez.