UPDATED: October 6, 2014, at 12:00 a.m.
Harvard University police are continuing to investigate a death threat that was emailed to several hundred Harvard affiliates, among others, on Friday afternoon, as new pieces of evidence came forward throughout the weekend claiming that the original threat was a mistake.
Early in the day Saturday, Harvard Police issued a community advisory message that said the email likely originated from outside the country, and late that afternoon, another piece of evidence arrived in some Harvard students’ email inboxes that appeared to corroborate that. Slightly more than 100 Harvard affiliates, most of them College students, received an email at 4:50 p.m. Saturday from the same “hotmail.de” address that had sent a death threat to several hundred people the day before.
Saturday’s email, addressed to “Harvard students and employees,” issued an apology for the day’s previous threat. The author of the email, who claimed to be 15 years old and live in France, wrote that his or her younger brother had sent Friday afternoon’s threatening message. Saturday’s email, like Friday afternoon’s, was agrammatical and written in broken English.
The Harvard University Police Department has seen the message, according to spokesperson Steven G. Catalano, and he said its investigation remained “open and ongoing” on Sunday evening.
Saturday’s email came several hours after Catalano told Harvard affiliates in a 9:50 a.m. community advisory message that “it appears at this time that the threat may not be credible.”
HUPD increased both its uniformed and plain-clothed presence this weekend in response to Friday’s threat, but campus remained open and operations were not curtailed. Catalano declined to comment on whether HUPD planned to maintain its increased campus presence on Monday.
The email message at the center of the ongoing investigation, sent to students Friday, threatened violence and was racially charged. In a copy of the email shared with The Crimson, its author claimed that he or she would come to Harvard on Saturday at “11 clock” and “shoot all of you” and “kill you individually.” The email’s time stamp indicates that it was sent at 4:44 p.m. Friday from the same “hotmail.de” email address as Saturday’s apparent apology.
At least some Harvard students received a second email with the same text at 4:50 p.m. Friday from a different Google Mail address.
Addressed to “All students at Harvard,” the text of both threatening emails included what appeared to be racist language. The emails referred to their intended recipients as “slit-eyes.” Many, but not all, of the emails’ intended recipients were women of Asian descent.
The threatening emails were not anonymous. In the emails, the author or authors self-identified as Stephanie Nguyen and claimed to live in Boston. The address from which the first email was received, however, identified the sender as Eduardo Nguyen. The Google Mail address identified the sender as Huy Dinh.
Dozens of Harvard students, some of whom received the death threat on Friday, had previously been contacted, through the same Google Mail address, by a person who self-identified as Huy Dinh. Those messages date back months.
The Crimson received a response to a request for comment from the Google Mail address early Sunday afternoon. The sender appeared to ask The Crimson to delete its online story on the death threat and claimed not to have written the original threat.
Saturday’s message from the “hotmail.de” address also expressed regret for the original threat. The sender asked that recipients “please feel sorry for the terrible news that my brother has written to my email address please forgive me for the unpleasant message.”
The sender claimed to be “not a killer, not a killer” and wrote that “There is no running amok in Harvard University I promise you.” The body of Saturday’s message, unlike Friday’s, was not signed with a name.
“I will bear the responsibility please call back all media,” the message read.
Several hundred Harvard affiliates received another, similarly apologetic message at 8:47 a.m. Sunday morning from the same “hotmail.de” address. The message also apparently requested The Crimson to delete its online story on the death threat.
Friday’s threat prompted the involvement of outside law enforcement and disrupted student life on campus. Cambridge Police Department and the FBI are supporting HUPD in its investigation.
Christina H. Gao ’16-’17, who was a recipient of the threat, said Friday evening that she was comforted by HUPD’s quick response. “I was planning on being in my room during the time that was [outlined] in the email,” she said. “Of course it’s scary, but I’m glad HUPD is on it.”
Still, Friday’s death threat had led to at least two scheduling changes on campus.
On Friday night, Harvard Women in Computer Science decided to reschedule a party, planned for Saturday night, to later in the month.
“In an effort to stay as safe as possible, we've decided to move this event,” event organizers wrote in a Facebook post.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association and several other Asian cultural groups, for their parts, had planned to co-host an event on the Asian American experience at Harvard on Saturday afternoon. By late Friday night, after talking with police, organizers decided to postpone the discussion, entitled “Perspectives: Being Asian American at Harvard,” until next Saturday, Oct. 11, out of concern for the event’s attendees.
“To all of our dear friends who received this afternoon’s email, we express our sincerest sympathy and support,” organizers wrote in a message announcing the postponement shared with The Crimson. “No one should have to open their inbox and see such a threatening and racially charged message.”
The message also included a list of campus counseling resources for distressed students.
Instead, several students from the aforementioned student groups held an informal gathering in the Adams House Lower Common Room on Saturday at 2 p.m. According to a post on the “Perspectives” Facebook event page, the discussion was meant “to create a safe space for members of our community to come together.”
At least one HUPD officer was present, guarding the door to the Lower Common Room. Around a dozen people were in attendance.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.