Harvard, UMass: Two threats, two scares during finals week

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<i>This post has been updated to reflect a new development. See note below for details.</i>

A pair of finals-week threats sent shivers through two Boston-area campuses Monday morning, adding to a seemingly ever-growing number of New England universities to face scares over the past two months.

Four buildings on Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge -- including a freshman dorm and the campus’ science center -- were evacuated shortly after 9 a.m. after officials sent out an alert warning of an unconfirmed report of explosives in each facility.

No explosions were reported. Local and federal officials were on the scene investigating. Thayer and Emerson Hall were reported cleared by campus officials as of 1 p.m. Eastern time, while the other two buildings were still being searched.


[Updated 12:50 p.m. PST Dec. 16: An all-clear on those buildings was announced about 2:45 p.m. Eastern time. No bombs were found and final exams that were not disrupted by the threat would continue as scheduled, Harvard officials announced.]

Harvard police had messaged students that there was “no reason to believe there is a threat” on campus.

“Access to Harvard Yard has been restricted to Yard residents with Harvard IDs. As of the writing of this message the report remains unconfirmed and the HUPD has no reason to believe there is a threat to any other site on campus,” Harvard police said in the message.

Meanwhile, with jitters already running through Cambridge, another alert of a possible gunman at the University of Massachusetts in Boston around noon briefly generated ripples of fear.

It is finals week there too, and officials ordered students and staff to evacuate the McCormack Building after receiving a report of somebody with a gun.

Massachusetts state police, however, quickly deemed the threat false, and the building was reopened half an hour later.


At Harvard, student George Doran said a supervisor was reading exam instructions to his constitutional law class in the Science Center when alarms went off about two minutes after 9 a.m. He said students filed out and were directed to Annenberg Hall, the freshman dining room, where they were informed by email and text that there was a bomb threat on campus.

An administrator later told students that morning exams had been canceled, prompting some applause, Doran said, and those who didn’t live in Harvard Yard were released about half an hour later. Few students seemed worried that there was an actual bomb, said Doran, who is a junior.

“By and large, the mood was lighthearted,” he said. “The question going through was, ‘Who doesn’t want to take their exams today?’”

Similar scares of possible gunmen have been reported throughout New England over the past month as the area prepared to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Saturday.

Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., the University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn., and Yale University in New Haven have each been locked down and searched in separate incidents since the beginning of November.

Only the threat at the University of New Haven was substantiated, after police said they arrested a student who was carrying two handguns and had an illegal assault rifle stowed in his SUV. Authorities also said he had newspaper clippings about mass shootings and 2,700 rounds of ammunition in his home.


Alana Semuels contributed to this report.