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Campus police hold four Black Harvard University students at gunpoint in a “swatting” attack

The officers scoured the Leverett House suite but found no signs of any persons carrying a firearm or anyone engaging in suspicious activity

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Early on Monday morning, a bogus 911 call regarding an armed person in a Leverett House undergraduate suite led to at least five Harvard University Police Department officers raiding the area.

Upon hearing a knock on their door, the four seniors from Harvard College who occupied the suite, all of whom were Black, were instructed by HUPD officers to step into the hallway at gunpoint.

Steven G. Catalano, a spokesperson for the HUPD, stated in an interview that they were sent to the premises following a report of “threatening violence against occupants.”

“The officers scoured the Leverett House suite but found no signs of any persons carrying a firearm or anyone engaging in suspicious activity,” added Catalano.

According to Jarah K. Cotton ’23, one of the seniors in the suite who was awoken by the sound of banging and commands to open up around 4 a.m., the other seniors Jazmin N. Dunlap ’23, David G. Madzivanyika ’23, and Alexandra C. René ’23 were also present at the time of the raid.

The noise of the banging was so loud that Birukti Tsige ’23, who was sleeping in the suite across the hall from where the raid happened, initially assumed “the knocking was coming from our side.”

Cotton stated that when she looked out of her room, she noticed that an HUPD officer in riot gear carrying an assault rifle had already entered their suite.

According to her, the officers instructed the students, pointing their rifles at them, to leave their rooms with their hands in the air.

The students were subsequently taken to a neighboring suite, she added. Cotton stated, “All I can remember thinking is ‘I haven’t done anything.’ I really didn’t have any idea why they were raiding our suite. It was a very bizarre and terrifying experience,” she said.

Following the incident, Cotton and her roommates were escorted to another suite where an officer explained that a false report had led HUPD to believe that there was an active threat in the building.

Catalano verified that the students were briefed about the false report by the officers. Tsige, who was in a neighboring suite, recorded the situation with her phone as the officers instructed the students from Cotton’s suite to exit their rooms and raise their hands. She expressed concern as the students in the suite are Black.

Tsige expressed her fear during the incident, but she acknowledged that it pales in comparison to the fear that the other suite may have felt.

The false 911 report that triggered the police response is believed to be an instance of swatting, which involves making a fake emergency call to provoke a strong police response aimed at harassing a target.

These hoaxes are named after the SWAT teams that usually handle them and have increasingly been aimed at schools nationwide in recent months. Similar false threats led to police responses and lockdowns at six high schools across Massachusetts just a week prior.

Interim Resident Dean of Leverett House John Nowak and Faculty Deans Daniel G. Deschler and Eileen E. Reynolds ’86 sent an email to students at 10:20 a.m. on Monday, briefly describing the raid and stating that there was no immediate threat to the safety of the house.

The deans acknowledged that everyone processes events like this differently and encouraged students to check in with themselves and each other and seek support if needed. The email also provided information about several support resources, including the Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services support line.

Additionally, the deans organized a gathering for students to discuss the incident on Monday evening, which was appreciated by Cotton.

Cotton said that the gathering hosted by the deans was beneficial as it provided students with accurate information regarding the raid.

However, she expressed that the students involved had many unanswered questions. Tsige, despite being assured of their safety, felt uneasy and anxious for the rest of the night, jumping at every little sound.

While she was able to sleep, some of her suitemates were not and she, herself, decided to skip classes for the day.

Cotton expressed her disappointment with the absence of a response or acknowledgment from the University regarding the incident. She stated that being confronted in one’s place of residence warrants the attention of the University President, Dean of Students, and at the very least, an email to the community.

Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesperson for the College, declined to comment on the matter. Cotton emphasized the need to inform people about swatting and the incident itself. She suggested that students should not learn about it from informal sources such as Sidechat or social media.


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