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Univ. responds to armed robbery on campus

The university issued an emergency shelter-in-place order from 11:54 p.m. on Nov. 20 to about 2 a.m. on Nov. 21 after receiving reports of an armed suspect on campus.

Brandeis and Waltham police responded to a room on Hassenfeld 6 in East Quad where two “non-community members” reportedly threatened three students with a handgun. “No one was hurt, and based on the initial investigation it appears this was not a random incident,” wrote Ed Callahan, Chief of Police, in an email to the Brandeis community Tuesday morning.

The police could not find the suspects, and after a thorough search of the campus, the emergency alert was lifted around 2 a.m.

“Police are continuing to investigate this incident but there is no indication of any continuing risk to our community; campus has resumed normal operations,” said Callahan.

The armed suspects were able to enter the building without swipe card access. Callahan said that campus police plans to review residence hall safety protocols.

In emergency situations, the university uses the Brandeis Emergency Notification System (BENS) to send alerts. “If the incident occurs after hours, Public Safety after consulting with the VP of Operations may activate the BENS system,” said Julie Jette, the director of media relations. “Updates after the initial alert are sent as the situation warrants or as conditions change.”

Brandeis sent out alerts via phone, text, email, Twitter and Facebook at 11:54 p.m. on Monday night. The email and Facebook alerts were identical, reading: “This is an official communication of the Brandeis University Emergency Notification System. We have received a report of an armed subject on campus. Take shelter in the nearest room, lock doors and windows, silence your cell phone, and remain quiet. Do not let anyone into the room until area is deemed clear by authorities. Further instructions or information will follow.”

The text and Twitter alerts contained the same information, but were shorter, reporting an armed subject on campus and offering the same lockdown instructions.

The automated phone call, however, shared additional details, noting there had been an armed robbery in a residence hall with two suspects and a possible firearm. These details were not included in any other university communications about the incident until Tuesday morning.

“During an emergency, Brandeis notifies the community simultaneously with specialized voice call, text and email messages. Though the contents of each message may differ slightly depending on the modality, the objective is to provide our community members with information relevant to a campus incident as quickly as possible,” said Julian Cardillo ’14, the news and communications specialist, in a statement to The Brandeis Hoot.    

After the initial announcement, Brandeis did not post again until the lockdown concluded around 2 a.m. Over the course of those two hours, parents, alumni and students commented on the university’s tweet and Facebook post asking for updates, sharing any details they knew about the events and telling everyone to stay safe.

“any update? please, it’s been an hour. loved ones are on campus,” one person commented.

“I know y’all are very busy, but an update would be greatly appreciated. We are all very worried,” one alumna wrote.

At 12:57 a.m., the Boston Globe posted there was “*no* active shooter situation,” but the lockdown was still in effect, according to Brandeis patrolman Dustin Botelho. Justin Dougherty from WHDH 7News also tweeted at 12:34 a.m, “public safety office telling me this is NOT an active shooter, there are no injuries and no arrests have been made. Lockdown still in place.”

Brandeis released a second update once there was new information to share, said Jette. The university waited until law enforcement had completed a full sweep of campus. It is always best to air on the side of “overcautious,” Jette said, to prevent anyone from thinking the situation was over until it was fully confirmed.

Typically, when the university issues mass alerts, all phones on campus will ring and play a recorded message. However, they did not in this case because Brandeis will not dial these phones when there may be an active shooter, said Jette. At the time, officials did not yet know details of the incident beyond the presence of an armed suspect.

On Tuesday morning, Brandeis tweeted encouraging everyone to ensure they are signed up for BENS notifications. While campus phones and Brandeis emails automatically receive the alerts, student phone numbers and personal emails are not automatically enrolled in BENS. They can be entered on Sage.

East Quad Senator Samantha Barrett ’20 is encouraging students who have questions or concerns about safety related to this incident to contact her. She plans to raise these issues with administrators and Public Safety over the break, she wrote in a Facebook post.

Emily Sorkin Smith contributed reporting.

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