While most Cornellians were away for spring break, some residents of George Jameson Hall were awoken around 4:30 a.m. on April 4 by police responding to a fraudulent call that claimed an armed individual threatened the safety of residents.
The Cornell University Police Department received a call at 2:32 a.m. from a male individual who was said he was armed and claimed to have injured a female subject.
The police responded to the call and conducted a search of the residency, particularly a room in a suite that was reported as part of the call.
Arsalan Ansari ’26, one of the residents of the room, recounted being woken up by the shouts of police officers asking all residents of the suite to walk out with their hands up. Once outside, Ansari was held at gunpoint by the police officers.
“I was terrified,” Ansari said. “It was unexpected and early in the morning at 4 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. — so, I didn’t expect that. And I was terrified to see them with shotguns and rifles, and the seriousness of the situation.”
Once the police verified that the residents present were not armed, they proceeded to interrogate them about the incident. After verifying that there was no real threat, the police left the scene.
“Cornell Police, like all police, have an obligation to respond to all calls alleging a threat to our community,” wrote Anthony Bellamy, chief of the Cornell University Police Department, in a statement to The Sun. “In this case, we rushed to go to the specific suite the caller mentioned to make sure that no one was injured or being held against their will by someone with a weapon. We then had to search the rest of the building to make sure residents were safe.”
The incident comes after a rise in “swatting” calls, in which fraudulent reports are made behind a blocked caller ID so that the authorities, particularly a SWAT team, respond to a location. Reports of such calls have surged in school districts in the state of New York over the past week. The day before the incident, a group of four Black Harvard students were also held at gunpoint because of a “swatting” incident.
Ansari said he was not told that the call was specifically directed to his room, which made him question why he was being interrogated as an Afghan international student.
“I come from this country with this identity. So why did this happen to me? There are millions of others, thousands of others,” Ansari said.
Having dealt with gun violence previously, Ansari reported the incident was particularly triggering.
“It intensifies that feeling of fear, anxiousness and all the emotions you felt when you were traumatized again — and live that for some time again and again,” Ansari said.
The CUPD explained that another incident of this nature had occurred this semester.
“This semester, Cornell University Police responded to two reports quickly determined to be false ‘swatting’ calls. In both cases, officers were dispatched immediately,” Bellamy wrote. “CUPD was assisted by Cornell University Public Safety Communications Center, Cornell Environmental Health and Safety and Cornell EMS, as well as local and regional authorities.”
The rise in these ‘swatting’ calls has received increasing national attention. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shummer (D-N.Y.) called on the FBI to investigate these incidents affecting schools across New York state. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) also released a statement denouncing the incidents.
A few hours following the incident, an email was sent to Jameson Hall residents later that morning by Nicole Wendel-Crowe, the building’s Residence Hall Director, on behalf of Housing and Residential Life.
“While this call was determined to be uncredible, we recognize that this may have impacted some Jameson residents who are residing in the building over spring break,” Wendel-Crowe wrote in the email obtained by The Sun. “If you need support, please reach out to any of the resources on campus.”
CUPD also apologized for the incident, noting how it may be traumatic for students.
“We appreciate that Student and Campus Life has reached out to students in Jameson Hall to offer support resources, and we also have shared our empathy with the students who were frightened by the investigation,” Bellamy wrote.
Ansari also received personal emails offering him support from Wendel-Crowe and from Reba McCutcheon ’96, an Assistant Dean of Students and case manager for Student Support and Advocacy Services.
CUPD is conducting an ongoing investigation into the incident and urges anyone with relevant information to share it with them. They also explained that although there are no current procedures on how to address ‘swatting’ calls, they are working with other local, regional and national law enforcement agencies to address the issue.
“The investigation into these incidents continues and we encourage anyone with information to contact us at (607) 255-1111 or through the Silent Witness program,” Bellamy told The Sun.
Ansari expressed hope that this incident can help make more Cornellians aware of the rising trend in ‘swatting’ calls and that the University will take the appropriate steps to protect students.
“There have to be better safety measures. That’s my concern,” Ansari said. “Whether you’re at Cornell or any other university, you should not be targeted [by] such traumatic incidents and through these false reports.”