Boston University Police responded to several false active shooter calls at two locations on campus Sunday evening, following a number of national “swatting” incidents on college campuses.
BUPD, along with Brookline Police, Boston Police and Massachusetts State Police, responded to “credible” calls of an active shooter at two campus locations, 855 Commonwealth Ave. and 233 Bay State Rd. just before 8 p.m. last night, BU spokesperson Colin Riley said.
When police arrived at 855 Commonwealth Ave. they entered the building and determined there were no active shooters. The doors of 233 Bay State Rd. were locked, and police found no one inside, Riley said.
BU sent out the first alert to students at 7:59 p.m. informing them of the incident and of the “heavy” police presence at both campus locations. Another alert went out at 8:25 p.m. instructing students to not call BUPD for updates on the situation and that there was “nothing showing” at the time. A final alert was sent out at 8:48 p.m. confirming police were “confident” that there was no threat, according to the BU Alert notification system.
BU officials instructed students to not call BUPD for updates in the alert because it clogs and has caused a bounce back to 911 in the past, Riley said.
Riley added the investigation about who made the calls is still ongoing.
“We’re working to identify information related to the source of the calls, using whatever information is provided, whether it’s a phone number, an email account or anything like that,” he said. “You don’t know the motivation behind this. It speaks to a disturbed individual, unfortunately.”
BU is offering resources for any student that feels trauma from the events from last night, according to the BU alert.
Riley said he wants students and their parents to know that BUPD is trained for these situations.
“[BUPD] coordinate these [situations],” he said. “They’ve done simulated exercises with local agencies to respond in such a case, and this is exactly how it played out.”
At the time of the event, students in the George Sherman Union, College of Fine Arts and College of Arts and Sciences locked down in the rooms they were in to be safe.
Kiku Wang, a junior in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she was attending a club meeting in CAS when she got the BU Alert. She said the club members barricaded the doors before deciding to move to a swipe access room across the hall with 50 other people to keep themselves safe.
“I feel like the environment was kind of tense. No one was talking,” Wang said when describing the locked down room. “I think there were people around me that were crying.”
Someone in the group notified the police about their location and when the police knocked on the door to escort them out of the building it made everyone “jump,” she said.
“I didn’t really think much about it before but even if it’s fake, it does pique a lot of people’s insights,” she said. “I just experienced that firsthand and I saw how scared people were and even though they told us it was a hoax afterwards, there were people still scared to go home.”
Wang said she felt BU had a “pretty good” response to the situation and that police were trying to comfort them in the parking lot after being escorted out.
Brian Kim, a sophomore in College of General Studies, said he felt the alerts came a little bit late and said BU should’ve sent them out faster.
Kim saw the police presence outside of CFA and didn’t know what was going on until the alert went out, he said.
“I knew something was up because they were heavily armed, and they wouldn’t do that if it’s not a really serious case,” Kim said. “I was pretty terrified.”
Kim said he was walking to the GSU from West campus, and he described the scene outside of CFA.
“I saw tons of police cars pulling up to the street … and the police were heavily armed with big, really heavy firearms [and] some are with rifles,” Kim said. “They were just swarming into the building of CFA and after that, they were kind of shutting down the street, evacuating kids on the street.”
Sophia Groen, a sophomore in College of Communication, said she never saw the GSU empty that fast when the alert went out. Groen said she moved to the basement of Mugar Memorial Library with her friends and listened to the Suffolk County police radio.
She said they barricaded the door and locked it for 45 minutes.
“Everyone in the room made me turn [the scanner] up and they mentioned the [GSU] so we were kind of starting to freak out,” she said. “A few people were getting hysterical and praying, crying just because we didn’t know if there was actually a shooter on campus, and we didn’t really know what to do.”
The hoax “swatting” at BU comes after multiple fake shooting calls at schools around the U.S., including one at Harvard University just last week.
An anonymous person called Harvard University Police Department on April 3 about a fake threat in the campus housing, Leverett House, according to a Harvard update sent to students.
Groen said she is “really pissed” at how BU handled the situation and wants BU to make a statement about the incident and have a broadcasted conference about the issue, especially with the threats to Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well.
“It was just terrifying because dealing with something like the fear of guns and [also because] this is a huge national issue right now,” she said. “I don’t think their response was conducive to the amount of students that exist on this campus.”