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MIT says hoax caller alleged a gunman was retaliating for suicide of Aaron Swartz

Posted by Your Town  February 27, 2013 07:30 PM

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A top MIT official said Wednesday that the caller who made a threatening, but unfounded, message about a gunman on campus over the weekend said that the university's president was the target and the alleged gunman was retaliating against people involved in the death of internet activist Aaron Swartz.

In a campus-wide letter posted on the site of the student newspaper, The Tech, Israel Ruiz, MIT's executive vice president and treasurer, acknowledged the university should have notified the campus "much more quickly'' that there was a report of a gunman on campus.

Ruiz provided a minute-by-minute account of the incident that sent police scrambling Saturday morning and unsettled the campus.

The call came in at 7:28 am Saturday, according to Ruiz's account, and went on for 18 minutes.

"One minute into the communication, the caller reported someone with a 'really big gun,' and 'armor' who was 'getting out of control.' The (Cambridge Police Department) dispatcher immediately sent CPD units and State Police to the site, and notified MIT Police,'' according to Ruiz.

MIT police entered Building 7 of the university campus within two minutes.

"At 7:35 AM, the caller identified MIT President Rafael Reif as the target and said that the alleged gunman was heading towards the administration offices. At 7:37 AM, the caller indicated that the alleged gunman was retaliating against people involved in the suicide of Aaron Swartz,'' Ruiz said. "The officers continued their search of the Main Group and proceeded to a second location to ensure the safety of MIT’s President. At 8:52 AM, a campus-wide alert was sent.''

Ruiz praised the "incredibly fast response time'' by police, but he also said the university is changing its procedures to ensure the campus community is informed more quickly in the case of a similar incident.

"It is clear . . . that while the officers focused on securing the area and ensuring the safety of the targeted individuals, 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. 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 wrote.

The Globe reported this week that the FBI and Secret Service have joined the Cambridge and MIT police departments to help investigate.

Swartz, a web entrepreneur and political activist who was charged with hacking into MIT’s network and downloading millions of documents from a subscription-based archive, committed suicide in January. In the weeks since, MIT's computer systems have been hacked several times in an apparent protest by activists upset about the death and the efforts to prosecute him.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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