UPDATED: April 14, 2023, at 3:55 a.m.
Harvard’s Science Center Plaza and parts of the neighboring Science Center were evacuated by the Harvard University Police Department Thursday afternoon following the discovery of a suspicious bag. The bag was later deemed safe, and no explosion was reported.
“The bag at the Science Center Plaza has been deemed safe. The assessment of the situation is over. No threat to the campus. The area is opened again,” an alert through the school’s MessageMe Emergency Alert System read.
Cambridge Police Department spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick confirmed that the package was determined to be safe.
“After a thorough investigation, the possible suspicious item has been deemed safe,” Warnick wrote in an email. “The assessment of the situation has concluded. The area has re-opened.”
In an emailed statement, HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote that officers first responded to the plaza at 3:52 p.m. after a report of “a suspicious bag.”
Officers then “conducted a sweep of the area, discovered the bag, and set up a perimeter around the location of the bag.” At that point, HUPD requested the assistance of CPD’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit.
Warnick confirmed the department assisted in the response.
“We are supporting HUPD and have officers from our Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit (Technicians and K9s) assisting following a report of a possible suspicious bag in the area of the Science Center Plaza,” Warnick wrote at the time of the incident. “The situation is being evaluated.”
The plaza was sectioned off with police tape, with officers instructing students to leave the area. Students were also evacuated from the first floor of the Science Center and its Cabot Science Library. An advisory through the University’s alert system sent at 4:47 p.m. instructed students to avoid the plaza.
“HUPD and CPD officers are at the Science Center Plaza on the report of a suspicious bag. Please avoid the area. Officers are evaluating the situation,” the alert read.
A loud noise was heard in the area at 5:34 p.m., though Catalano wrote in an email that the noise “was not an explosion,” and that it was instead produced by a water cannon. A follow-up alert indicated that loud noises in the area were due to equipment being used to assess the package.
“The assessment into the bag is still ongoing. It includes using equipment that will generate loud noises. Please continue to avoid the Science Center Plaza,” the alert read. “More information to follow.”
A photo taken by The Crimson appeared to show fireworks in the vicinity of the bag.
FBI spokesperson Kristen M. Setera said in a Thursday phone call that the FBI is unable to provide comment at this time.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Interim Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01, both present at the scene, declined to comment on the situation.
“You should refer to the information that HUPD has been communicating via MessageMe for questions about the ongoing situation,” College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote in an emailed statement. “We are communicating with students and Houses about allowing interhouse dining in order to account for access to dinner for this evening.”
The potential threat disrupted several classes held in the Science Center, postponing a midterm exam for Math MB: “Introduction to Functions and Calculus II.” Freshmen, who typically eat at the adjacent Annenberg Hall, were instructed to eat at upperclassman houses instead.
Sidechat, an anonymous social media platform for students, sees widespread use on Harvard’s campus. Students falsely reported on Sidechat that the bag had exploded, including a post that appeared to show a bag detonating — but in fact depicted the use of a water cannon on the bag.
Lucy H. Vuong ’26 and Jackson T. Moody ’26, who were both in the Science Center at the time of the incident, said they monitored Sidechat for news of the situation.
“We had some vague sense of what was going on just through people updating on Sidechat — as much as you can trust rumors,” Vuong said, adding that she felt “worried and confused.”
“We kind of knew that we weren’t going to get anything official from the University until a while later,” Vuong added. “They sent out the MessageMe about them using things that might cause large noises after their purposeful detonation occurred.”
Vuong, who was on the fifth floor of the Science Center, said her class Math 99R: “Decision Theory” stalled for 10 to 15 minutes as “we tried to figure out what that detonation noise was.” During that time, Vuong said she and other students went down to a fourth floor balcony to observe.
Vuong said the possible threat factored into her decision not to eat at Annenberg Thursday evening.
“We were trying to build a robot — just building, building, building — and then we all got the text on our phones from HUPD,” said Moody, who was in the midst of his Physical Sciences 70: “Introduction to Digital Fabrication” lab on the first floor. “We were kind of freaking out because it said stay clear of that area, and we were in that area.”
Moody said his class evacuated after a student came down the hall and told them they were supposed to evacuate.
“I saw on Sidechat that the bomb blew up. Apparently that’s not true, or maybe it is true — I don’t even know,” Moody said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around what was happening, which obviously, leads to anxiety.”
Emily Parke ’24 said in an interview that her Thursday evening lab section for Life Sciences 1B: “An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution” was canceled.
“It’s not a huge disruption because the stuff that we’re doing in lab, I guess it can just be done on our own, but it is a two hour, 45 minute lab,” she said.
Parke said she felt there was a lack of information available to students between the alerts sent out by campus police.
“I got all my information about what happened from Sidechat, which is — I don’t know — maybe not the most reputable source,” Parke said.
—Staff writers Rahem D. Hamid, Miles J. Herszenhorn, John N. Peña, and Neil H. Shah contributed reporting.