MIT: Gunman hoax linked to Swartz case, ‘not a game’

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (afagen/Flickr)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (afagen/Flickr)

Four days after a false report about a gunman on campus, a top MIT official is providing more details about the threat and the university’s response.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz sent a letter to MIT students, faculty, and staff Wednesday that provided a timeline of Saturday’s incident. It began at 7:28 a.m., when Cambridge Police received a tip through an Sprint relay service, usually used by people with speech or hearing impairments.

“The communication went on for more than 18 minutes, with a Sprint relay operator interacting with the caller and in turn communicating with a CPD dispatcher,” Ruiz wrote.

“One minute into the communication, the caller reported someone with a ‘really big gun,’ and ‘armor’ who was ‘getting out of control.’ The CPD dispatcher immediately sent CPD units and State Police to the site, and notified MIT Police.”

Ruiz said the caller identified the supposed gunman as an MIT staff member, who authorities say was not involved in the hoax.

The alleged target of the threat was MIT President Rafael Reif. “At 7:37 AM, the caller indicated that the alleged gunman was retaliating against people involved in the suicide of Aaron Swartz,” Ruiz wrote.

As earlier reported by Metro, Swartz was an Internet activist who committed suicide last month. He was being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s office in Boston for allegedly hacking into the MIT network and stealing millions of documents.

Ruiz called the police response “outstanding,” thanking officers for their “courage and professionalism.”

He also addressed critics who say MIT should have notified students and staff about the incident sooner. The first text message alert was sent more than an hour after police received the call.

“We should have alerted the community about the threat much more quickly and that the communication protocols we had in place did not meet the community’s reasonable expectations,” Ruiz said. “We have already revised our procedures to make sure that we are now in a position to alert the community within minutes of such an incident.”

Ruiz said even though the report turned out to be false, it was a serious incident. With a high number of armed police officers searching campus for the alleged gunman, someone could have accidentally been hurt.

“This hoax also involved a malicious allegation against a member of our community and direct threats of physical harm to MIT staff,” Ruiz wrote. “We should all understand that this is not a game.”

Ruiz is asking the MIT Security and Emergency Management Office to hold briefings with the university community about the school’s safety procedures.

The FBI and Secret Service are helping Cambridge police find the person who made the false report.

Read the full text of Ruiz’s letter in the MIT Tech.

Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBos



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