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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Yale on lockdown; no cause for panic

Published: December 6, 2013
Section: News

Yale University went into lockdown on Nov. 25 after an anonymous male called local police from an off-campus pay phone saying that his roommate was headed to the university with a long gun to shoot people. Yale and the surrounding area were on high alert as university police, New Haven Police, State Police, SWAT, FBI, ATF, ICE and Homeland Security were involved throughout the day and beyond.

The investigation into a potential gunman ended after an exhaustive search found nothing of note. Authorities believe that the call was a hoax. University and city police are working with the FBI to identify the unknown caller who hung up in fewer than 30 seconds without giving his name. There are several people of interest but no arrests have been made. Police have decided not to release the 911 call, its transcript or related surveillance images to the public. The lockdown ended in the afternoon.

The caller made the emergency call at 9:48 a.m., approximately one mile from the Yale campus. An alert was sent out at 10:17 a.m. to the 35,000 members of the Yale community who had signed up to receive the text, email and phone messages. Authorities also used a local public address system and told community members to take shelter in place. Yale defines shelter in place as taking refuge in a small, windowless room and locking the doors.

The fear increased only a few minutes after the alert was sent out when police received a call from someone on campus who reported seeing a man with a gun on the Old Campus. Police later determined that the person seen with a gun was actually a law enforcement officer who responded to the initial pay phone call. This sighting prompted a text to be sent to community members reading, “Confirmed report of a person with a gun on/near Old Campus. SHELTER IN PLACE. This is NOT a test.”

Nearby Gateway Community College, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, New Haven Free Public Library, New Haven Green and the Yale Repertory Theater and Peabody Museum were also put on lockdown. The incident was televised as breaking news, and stations broadcasted live video throughout the state, reporting on potential explanations.

Most students had already left the campus for Thanksgiving break, but a significant number remained, including many international students who were not leaving for the holiday. Numerous faculty and staff members were left on campus. The Old Campus, which includes 10 of the university’s 12 residential colleges that house undergraduates, was searched completely room by room. This part of the college began to be constructed in the 1700s, and the dorm rooms accordingly do not have peepholes, which posed a difficulty for law enforcement officials, who faced resistance from students opening the door for them during the checks. Yale officers accompanied SWAT members during the checks and slid their university IDs under the door for assurance.

The lockdown complicated matters for local businesses since authorities blocked streets and encouraged locals not to traverse the roads. Downtown traffic was hectic for hours. Many stores were not able to capitalize on the often prosperous time before Thanksgiving. It is believed that the lockdown cost the city a significant amount, though city spokesperson Anna Mariotti said that there was no cost estimate yet. Essman said that it is better to overreact than underreact in a situation with such a potential for danger.

Earlier in the month, Central Connecticut State University was similarly placed on lockdown after it was reported that an armed man was on campus. This turned out to be partially true, as David Kyem, son of CCSU professor Peter Kyem, was wearing a Halloween costume with an airsoft gun, sword and advanced tactical gear. Prior serious incidents in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Boston have prompted an increased urgency of response during potential incidents as well as higher demand for media coverage of such situations.