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Suspicious Box Prompts Holyoke Evacuation

Members of Cambridge's emergency services prepare to handle a suspicious package found outside Finale at the Holyoke Center on Monday afternoon.
Members of Cambridge's emergency services prepare to handle a suspicious package found outside Finale at the Holyoke Center on Monday afternoon.
By Alan J. Tabak, crimson staff writer

Police evacuated parts of the first three floors of the Holyoke Center and cordoned off several blocks of Mount Auburn Street Monday morning after a report of a suspicious package that turned out to be harmless.

The Cambridge Fire Department, with assistance from the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) and the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), investigated the complaint.

“The package did not contain a bomb, nor bomb-making materials,” Cambridge Police Department spokesperson Frank T. Pasquarello said. “But we take every threat seriously.”

The Holyoke Center—which is Harvard property and includes the offices of University Health Services (UHS)—and Mount Auburn Street were reopened at 2:06 p.m, HUPD spokesperson Peggy A. McNamara said. The suspicious package report came in at 10:57 a.m., CFD deputy chief James Burns said.

McNamara said the suspicious package report was the only one she could recall at Holyoke Center in over 20 years at HUPD.

But Burns said CFD frequently responds to reports of suspicious packages.

“Most of the time, it’s a false alarm,” Burns said.

Doreen O’Connor, an accounting assistant at UHS, said she first noticed an unattended box on a table outside the dessert restaurant Finale—located on the ground floor of the Holyoke Center—when she went outside on break Monday morning.

An unidentified male opened the box and removed an object that “looked like something electrical, like a cell phone or a beeper,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor added she was uncertain of the contents of the box.

O’Connor said the male then closed the box, explaining that he had hoped that there would have been money inside.

O’Connor’s break partner then alerted Arthur Strauss, the UHS manager of central services, to the presence of the box. Strauss said he called the police.

UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 said the CFD only evacuated the levels of the Holyoke Center near Finale up to the third floor because they feared that an explosion could have caused glass to fly from windows.

Rosenthal said he authorized all personnel on the first three floors to leave the building to allay concerns among staff caused by the suspicious package.

Jamie Fletcher, an accounts receivables supervisor who works on the 10th floor of Holyoke Center, was one of several bystanders who nonetheless expressed concern that only the first three floors of the building were evacuated.

“If they are taking [the threat] seriously, it’s scary that they didn’t evacuate everyone or tell people inside what’s going on,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher, who was on her lunch break when the police arrived, added, “I had to call my floor to explain why I wouldn’t be going back to work.”

But Pasquarello said that CPD believed evacuating all of Holyoke Center was unnecessary and would have caused needless disruption.

“We just wanted to play it safe and evacuate near where the package was,” Pasquarello said.

Rosenthal said patients and doctors on the third floor—which houses the UHS internal medicine unit—were disrupted by the evacuation. He said UHS was typically busy because of the influx of summer school students.

“Primary care was quite disrupted,” Rosenthal said. “But we have to do what the police tell us to do.”

UHS physician James G. Cacciola said elderly patients in particular were likely inconvenienced by the bomb scare.

“We have a significant number of older patients that we try to fit in now because students aren’t here,” Cacciola said. “This is generally a less busy time, but the patients who do come in may be needier.”

Rosenthal and Cacciola both said most doctors remained at work until all available scheduled patients for the day were seen. Other patients returned home and chose to reschedule their appointments.

Arlene Lane, who works at UHS, said patients were not overlooked during the evacuation.

“We would never, ever leave a patient in an evacuated building. Patients come first,” Lane said.

—Staff writer Alan J. Tabak can be reached at tabak@fas.harvard.edu.

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