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Harvard students face dorm raid by armed officers after hoax threat

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(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) — Four Harvard University students were awakened by armed officers in their dorm rooms after a fake 911 call about a person with a “gun threatening violence” sent officers searching for the risk, according to students and public police logs.


“Things like that typically don’t end well for people who look like us,” student Jarah Cotton, who is Black and was in the dorm when it was raided, said in an interview with ABC News. “We thought we were going to die.”

Cotton, a senior at Harvard, said she was “jolted awake” by intense banging on one of the doors of her suite around 4 a.m. Monday morning.

According to the public police log, officers entered and searched the room, failing to find anyone with a firearm or someone acting suspicious. Officers reported they found no threat.

“I saw them in riot gear and like, they had their assault rifles and all that kind of stuff,” Cotton told ABC News.

Students were evacuated from their rooms as officials prepared to search them, Cotton said.

“We’re walking out, everybody’s like barefoot and pajamas, you know, frazzled,” said Cotton. “As Black students, we’ve all been taught that you do not argue with the police.”

She continued, “And we’re walking out with our hands up … we still don’t know what’s going on. So all that’s going through my mind is: I haven’t done anything. I’m sure none of my roommates have done anything to warrant this.”

According to Cotton, when officers failed to find anything wrong in the dorm suite, they explained that a series of phone calls were made to the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) relaying very specific details about a hostage situation and gun threat in their suite.

HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalan confirmed that officers told students what was happening in an interview with The Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper at the university.

Massachusetts officials have seen a wave of hoax calls early this year, with threats shutting down K-12 schools and now impacting Harvard.

Faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement is what the FBI calls “swatting,” and it can be dangerous for both first responders and the victims because of the high-intensity and high-risk situations, officials said.

HUPD and Harvard University officials could not be reached by ABC News following multiple requests for comment.

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