A bomb scare forced Harvard University to evacuate four buildings, call in police and disrupt final exams at the elite US university in the northeastern town of Cambridge on Monday.
Harvard tweeted that there had been “NO reports of explosions” but police were immediately scrambled to the sprawling, snowy campus where witnesses tweeted of helicopters circling overhead.
The university ordered the evacuations at 9:02 am at the Science Center, the Thayer dormitory, the Sever classroom and lecture hall and the Emerson building, home to the philosophy department.
But five hours and 42 minutes after the alert, the university said the last of the four buildings, the Science Center, was clear and that students could return.
No bombs were discovered, despite an email to police at around 8:40 am claiming that explosive devices may have been hidden at the four sites, the university said later.
“I am relieved to report that no suspicious devices were found,” said Harvard executive vice president Katie Lapp.
Lapp said that police, local, state and federal agencies were investigating who may have been responsible for the apparent hoax.
The Ivy League school is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It has about 21,000 students and dominates the Massachusetts town of Cambridge, near Boston.
Harvard said that all but three exams scheduled Monday afternoon would go ahead as planned. Two others were moved to different locations.
Any student who feels unable to take an exam, including for anxiety issues, can be graded on their coursework without incurring any penalty toward their degree, it said.
Sam Weinstock, incoming president of student newspaper the Harvard Crimson, told CNN that final exams scheduled on Monday morning in three of the affected buildings had been canceled.
“Students were removed from those exams, taken to the freshman dining hall, where they were told that exams would be canceled,” he said.
University of Massachusetts Boston also announced a brief evacuation of one building over reports of a possible gunman. The alert was declared false within minutes.
US schools and colleges take all security threats very seriously.
Boston was hit by two bomb attacks in April at its marathon, killing three people and wounding 260 in the first major terror attack on US soil since September 11, 2001.
On Friday, a schoolboy armed with a shotgun opened fire and wounded two fellow students before killing himself at a high school in Colorado.
Monday’s scares came less than a month after Harvard’s great rival Yale went on a four-hour lockdown after a hoax caller claimed his roommate was planning to shoot people on campus.
Teams of police scoured the sprawling Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut but there were never any reports of shots fired nor of any injuries. Nor was the presumed gunman found.
Harvard was founded in 1636 and has educated current and former leaders from all over the world, including a long list of American presidents such as Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy.