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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Terrorist threat on Heller

Published: January 20, 2006
Section: News

The Office of Public Safety received an anonymous e-mail Wednesday claiming that there was an imminent threat to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, resulting in an evacuation of several University buildings and a nearby elementary school.

The vague message was received at approximately 11:30 a.m. by Chief of Public Safety Ed Callahan, who then notified the Waltham Police Department. Reporting to the scene along with the Waltham Police were the Waltham Fire Department and the Massachusetts State Police. The FBI was also told of the threat.

The Heller School and the nearby Science Center were both evacuated Wednesday, disrupting several classes, and the buildings were then searched by bomb-sniffing dogs and trained police personnel. The student body was notified of the threat via a campus-wide e-mail sent at 1:20 p.m., which was written by Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Peter French. The short message stated only that the threat had been received, and that the buildings had been evacuated.

At 5:26 p.m. the Brandeis Community received a second e-mail from Vice President French stating that all classes and activities taking place on campus were cancelled pending the completion of the building examinations. A third e-mail, sent at 7:00 p.m., verified that the searches were finished and that the Heller School and the science quad were reopened.

There was a discrepancy between Frenchs messages, which said that the anonymous e-mail suggest[ed] a terrorist threat, and Director of Media Relations Dennis Nealons assertion that the e-mail did not mention bombs or terror. Waltham Chief of Police Edward Drew also referred to the e-mail as a threat of a terrorist attack, but also called the threat non-specific and refused to comment on any particular content. However, he did say that it was not akin to a bomb threat to get out of an exam.

Early indications are that the e-mail was a hoax, which Chief Drew called well educated and well stated.

There was no indication of the reasoning behind the choice of Brandeis as a terror target. Chief Drew was asked about an article published in the New York Sun on Jan. 17 which claimed that a Brandeis professor had possible ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but he refused to comment or infer anything from that article.
In addition to the actions taken on campus, the police elected to extend their precautionary measures into the town of Waltham. Stanley Elementary School, located on South Street, was evacuated at approximately the same time as the Heller School and Science Center. Also, residents within the vicinity of the University were notified of the threat by a recorded message sent via the departments reverse 911 system.

The message went to approximately 250 homes, and told residents to stay inside and shut their doors and windows, implying that there was concern over airborne agents moving into Waltham. A second reverse 911 message telling residents to resume normal activities was sent when the search was completed.
While the investigation was underway, a confused Brandeis community attempted to cope with the situation. Students reported that their CAs told them that the dining halls were closed, which was never the case. Students were also informed that their parents could not come onto campus to pick them up, which also turned out to be false.

Associate Director of Campus Life Jeremy Leiferman said that the nature of the situation and the fact that the Department of Residence Life was getting the same information as the students led to some miscommunication.
There was also confusion about the cancellation of classes, as some professors were under the impression that classes would resume once the all-clear had been given by the Brandeis police. One biology professor was unaware of the second e-mail from Peter French which instructed students to stay indoors and sent her students a message attempting to find out why no one was in class. Also, some evening activities taking place in the Campus Center went on as scheduled while others remained cancelled.

Chief Drew stated that we live in a bizarre time, we have a lot of bizarre instances that were dealing with, and said that he was happy with the response of the various law enforcement agencies involved in the situation. Dennis Nealon said that the university takes threats very seriously, and an investigation into the incident is ongoing.