Reports of an MIT Gunman Were a Hoax

A warning sent by internet briefly sent the campus into emergency mode.

Cambridge police say that the initial report that a gunman was on the MIT campus with a rifle and body armor was a hoax. MIT went into emergency mode around 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning when a tip-off of a possible gunman on campus spurred the university to notify students and staff to stay inside and take shelter. The school’s website redirected to a page carrying this warning:

This morning information was received from Cambridge Police that there was a person with a long rifle and body armor in the Main Group Building of MIT.  Multiple law enforcement agencies have responded. Stay indoors and shelter in place and report suspicious activity to the campus police dispatch at 617 253 1212 or dial 100 from a campus phone.  More updates to follow.

After Cambridge police shut down Mass. Ave and searched the area, they concluded that there was no threat and gave an all-clear around 9:30 a.m.. Police spokesman David Procopio told the Boston Globe in an email, “Report came in as [a] possible barricaded armed suspect, but it turned out to be a hoax.”

That leaves the question of who sent in the initial report and why? At a press conference, police said they received the tip over the internet. They’ll be working with Secret Service and FBI this weekend to identify the tipster, and said they’ll seek criminal charges if they do, according to CBS Boston’s Bree Sison.

This is the sad age where every university has to plan for threats like this one, so if there’s any silver lining to what must have been a very scary morning for the MIT community, it’s that they’ve got a very realistic simulation of an emergency that they can use to figure out whether their systems for notifying people and responding to threats are in working order. Already the university is looking into why the notification apparently took an hour to reach some students. That’s the kind of kink you want to work out before it’s truly needed.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

    On February 19th, Brock Parker, Town Correspondent for the Boston Globe, reported that the Cambridge Police had set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account to provide the public with real-time updates of “high-profile incidents.”

    The Cambridge Police Department’s Facebook page, in turn, leads visitors to their “Citizen Observer Alert” website where visitors can click on a link to “submit a tip.”

    It appears that this may have been the method by which the false report entered the system.