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Balloon popping sparks lockdown at several Fenway-area colleges

Boston police were outside Simmons University.
Boston police were outside Simmons University.(David L. Ryan/Globe staff)

The sound of popping balloons mistaken for gunshots sent colleges in the Fenway neighborhood and Boston Latin School briefly into lockdown Thursday afternoon, police said.

“This sound echoed throughout the campus, leading people to believe there were gunshots,” said Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman.

A Boston police spokeswoman said a call for shots fired in the area of 300 The Fenway, which is the address for Simmons University, came in at 2:38 p.m. Police responded but determined there was no threat.

“There were no shots fired,” Boyle said. “Police investigated and searched the area. Everyone is returning to the buildings.”

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The balloon popping was part of a planned activity, he said. But its location and purpose was not immediately clear Thursday evening.

Jeremy Solomon, a Simmons spokesman, said no such activity was planned by the university.

“There may have been activity at other institutions,” he said.

Solomon said the police response was prompted by a student report.

“At approximately 2:36 pm, a Simmons University student reported hearing sounds that she thought resembled shots fired,” Solomon said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, a lockdown was ordered. Boston Police conducted a thorough search of the academic campus and found no evidence of any shot being fired. The All Clear was issued at 3:09 pm.”

Around 3:35 p.m., Simmons police tweeted, “ALL CLEAR — please resume normal activity.”

About 130 students stood outside Lefavour Hall and Beatley Library on Simmons University campus around 3:30 p.m. after several students heard a loud noise around the building.

Rhiannon Charren, 19, was studying for her nursing exam on the second floor of the library when she first received messages around 2:40 p.m. from the university about an active threat in the building.

“First it was a text, then an e-mail, then a call,” she said. “I didn’t think much of it until I saw the message saying, ‘Run if it’s an option.’ ”

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Kyr Gibson, a junior psychology student, was studying in a quiet room when she received the messages and saw police entering the building about 20 minutes later.

“I honestly didn’t hear anything, but I saw everybody hiding under their desks and freaked out,” said Gibson, 22.

Charren and Gibson said officers escorted students into the building’s atrium before letting students exit the building and wait across the street.

“That was the scariest part because the police officer said the shooter could have run in the building with us,” Charren said.

Students waited across the street for about 30 minutes before an officer waved them back into the building around 3:45 p.m.

“I’m still a bit shocked, honestly, because no one could tell us what really happened. We still don’t know,” Gibson said.

Charren added, “With all the talk about school shootings, this was just a little too real for one day. I think I’m just going to go home and lay down.”

Meanwhile, other area schools took precautions.

A spokeswoman for MassArt said the college was “on lockdown due to this report” and referred further questions to police. A MassArt Twitter message posted around 3 p.m. said, “Campus and Resident Halls are locked down. Shelter in Place. Please stay tuned for further updates.”

Another area school, Emmanuel College, posted a message to its site that said, “Police activity near Boston Latin School. Shelter in Place. This is not a drill. More information to follow.”

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Emmanuel and MassArt posted all-clear messages soon after Simmons.

Boston Latin also went into safe mode, according to Boston Public Schools.

“Boston Latin School was placed into safe mode as a precaution between 2:45 and 3:38 p.m.,” BPS spokesman Daniel O’Brien wrote in an e-mail. “About 200 students were inside the building at the time. School had been dismissed at about 2:15.”


Danny McDonald of Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.