More details emerge about Old Campus swatting incident
Police have confirmed a rough timeline of events, interactions with the caller and a potentially racist motivation behind false reports made by unidentified individuals on Tuesday morning.
Nathaniel Rosenberg, Contributing Photographer
In the hours since an early morning swatting incident shut down Old Campus and led police to search Bingham Hall for an active shooter, new information has painted a clearer picture of the morning’s events.
According to police, at 12:16 a.m. on Tuesday, the Yale Police Department received a call from an unknown male stating they had “seriously harmed” a female student and believed that she may be deceased. The caller claimed to possess a knife and hunting rifle with intent to harm others. In response, police locked down Old Campus and the surrounding streets until they had determined the calls were false. YPD issued an all clear via Yale Alert at 3:07 a.m.
“Fortunately it turned out to be nothing more than a swatting incident but very unnerving, very unfortunate and one of those situations where you realize that whoever is doing this does not understand the impact that it has,” YPD Chief Anthony Campbell told the News. “That’s why we’ll bring all resources to bear to locate them, arrest them and prosecute them.”
“Swatting” refers to calling in a false report of violence or illegal activity to the police, with the goal of police converging on a certain area.
John DeCarlo, a professor of criminology at the University of New Haven and a retired police chief, said swat callers might call as a malicious prank. Other callers swat to draw police towards a false crime and away from an area where a real crime is being committed.
“It is such a dangerous thing because you’re sending armed police into an area and when that happens, obviously, it’s dangerous because of the potential consequences it might have,” DeCarlo said.
Because the caller used anti-Black racial slurs while on the phone with officers, Campbell shared that he thought the swatting was possibly a racially motivated crime, and did not rule out that it could be a hate crime.
“Given that it happened on the night of Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration, I think given the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King III is coming to speak at Yale University tomorrow, I think it is no coincidence,” Campbell said. “I do believe that fear and intimidation, racism, bias and hate were all part of this incident, and maybe were the driving factor behind it.”
Timeline of events
According to interviews with the police, as well as public statements released Tuesday by Campbell and Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis, swatting began when the Yale dispatch received a call at 12:16 a.m. It was in that call that an unidentified male claimed that he had seriously injured or possibly killed a female student and was armed with a knife and a gun. The caller went on to say that he would shoot anyone who tried to interfere, including police officers. He later gave a description of the room he was in that initially led police to believe he was inside Entryway C of Bingham Hall.
“They described [Bingham Hall] to a tee. We have also learned that they may have been able to ascertain that information from something that was posted online,” Campbell said. “But they described it to a tee, making us believe that they were someone who was familiar with that location, or was actually there.”
Police then began entering students’ rooms in Bingham, searching for the individual in question. Five students who spoke to the News described the sweeps as abrupt and confusing, as the police entered and exited without much explanation.
At 12:56 a.m. as officers searched Bingham, YPD sent out their first Yale Alert, directing students living on Old Campus to “shelter in place.” The alert advised all others to avoid the area while police investigated. The New Haven Police Department also closed down College and Chapel streets and prevented students from entering Old Campus unless absolutely necessary.
Anuj Sakarda ’26, a resident of Bingham whose room was not searched by police, described feeling confused about the paucity of information. In hindsight, he said he understood the reasons behind the lack of clarity.
“We honestly didn’t really know what was going on, so it was more so a really mysterious kind of thing,” Sakarda said. “Now that I look at the nature of it, I think it was probably in the best interest not to share that much. Because that might have caused a greater level of panic.”
YPD remained in contact with the caller —who they believe used a burner phone — while he made a series of racist remarks about Black people, including threats to kill Black police officers.
The caller demanded a photo of the officer he was speaking with in order to ensure the officer was not Black. YPD provided a picture of two non-Black officers, neither of whom were the officer on the phone.
At 1:46, a still-unidentified person posted the photo to a recently-created Twitter account impersonating Yale Police with the caption “Me and my lieutenant out here averting a hostage crisis.” At 3:10 a.m. the same account tweeted “UPDATE: the hostage has been killed.”
Once it became clear to authorities that the caller was not actually in a room in Bingham as he had claimed, he changed his story. Next, he told police that he had planted a bomb in a Bingham bathroom. Both YPD and New Haven police deployed bomb squads, which swept the building without finding any bombs. Campbell explained that YPD did not issue an evacuation order because they did not believe the claim that there was a bomb in the building.
“Had there been any inkling that there had been any type of explosive or incendiary device we had plans to evacuate the entirety of Old Campus,” Campbell told the News.
At approximately 2:45 a.m. the caller told officers that he would “begin shooting in eight minutes,” according to Campbell’s Tuesday update. Police stationed themselves throughout Bingham Hall, and no shots were fired.
Conflicting information from the caller led police to determine that they were dealing with a swatting incident and they sent out an “all clear” to campus at 3:07 a.m. A few minutes later, YPD received a call from the same number. This time, a different voice claimed there was a shirtless white man running with a rifle in Harkness Hall. Dispatched officers found no suspicious activity.
Campbell did not rule out that multiple individuals were responsible for the swatting incident.
According to Campbell, YPD is actively collaborating with New Haven police and the FBI to track down the perpetrators. He encouraged anyone with information about the swatting to reach out to YPD.
”We are in the process of applying for warrants, emergency disclosure requests, and other legal vehicles, which will allow us to identify possible emails, possible computer access points, phone records, Twitter account records, etcetera,” Campbell said.
As for what charges the perpetrators might face, DeCarlo stressed that there are a wide range of possible outcomes.
“It runs the gamut from a simple breach of peace to much larger crimes against persons at both the state and federal level,” DeCarlo said.
Bingham Hall is located at 300 College Street.