Ricin scare at McCarthy under investigation
Update, Wednesday, 5:57 pm: The substance found in the McCarthy dorm tested positive for ricin, according to an email Georgetown University Police Chief Jay Gruber sent to the student body. The initial field tests were negative, though that apparently is not the case.
The email says there is “no immediate threat,” and that there are no reports of exposure to the ricin. Anyone who had exposure would have had “severe symptoms” within 24 hours of exposure.
“The university secured contractors who specialize in decontamination of biological threat agents to clean the room under investigation where the substance was recovered,” the email reads.
Vox will have the full story coming in a new post.
Update, Wednesday 4:20 pm: McCarthy residents have been allowed back into all their rooms. The email sent in the past hour by the Office of Residential Living was extremely vague:
We are writing to let you know that the investigation activity on your floor has concluded. You are now welcome to return to your residence hall room.
The university is taking additional steps to clean the area and return it to comfortable order. Throughout the day today, you may see individuals engaged in additional cleaning activities on your floor. We appreciate your cooperation in allowing them to complete their work quickly by navigating around equipment and staying clear of their work areas.
We will share more information with you and members of the Georgetown as soon as it is available.
The email does not mention whether the suspicious substance tested as either positive or negative for ricin, and it does not mention why the rooms needed cleaning.
Saumik Rahman (NHS ’16), a resident of the east side of 6th floor and Vox writer, says his hall director told residents that there is no health hazard in the area, but because the substance has not been conclusively identified, the subject being interviewed last night has not been released.
In regard to the cleaning, he says that while his room looks just as he left it and the hallways appear to be clean, the men’s bathroom smells of ammonia and the shower curtains were torn down. He believes the cleaning could be regarding rooms that were searched, perhaps.
Update, Wednesday, 12:41 pm: The McCarthy residents who have been given off campus housing accommodations have not yet been allowed to return to their dorms.
“Returning you to your room as quickly as possible remains our highest priority,” reads an email sent by the Office of Residential Living this morning. “We are working to identify a clear timeline for that return and will communicate with you through your Georgetown email account.”
As for the substance found in the Kennedy 6 common room (see the 6:45 pm update for reference), the common room was reopened last night.
Update, 7:08 pm: McCarthy 6 residents living in the hall being investigated for possible ricin are being given overnight accommodations, according to an Office of Residential Living email forwarded to Vox.
“We have secured temporary accommodations for you tonight at the Savoy Hotel located at 2505 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007. The hotel is expecting you and will be on hand to check you in upon your arrival. You also have the option to stay with a friend this evening if that is preferred,” the email reads.
The University is giving affected students a $20 GOCard credit for toiletries and food.
“Out of an abundance of caution we are asking that you remain out of the designated area for the remainder of the evening while the investigation is ongoing,” the email reads.
Update, 6:45 pm: Caitriona Pagni (SFS ’16), a Voice editor-at-large and Kennedy 6 RA, told Vox she called GUPD around 5 p.m. after a student on her floor found a white powder substance in the common room in that building.
Pagni says GUPD taped off the common room but no students have been forced to move from the floor or their rooms. It is unclear whether officials consider the substance suspicious. Pagni said she is not speaking for Residential Living and that her statements do not reflect the opinions or any information Residential Living holds.
Students who live on the east half of the 6th floor of McCarthy have still not been able to return to their dorms, though students on the other side of the floor and in other parts of the building are able to access their dorms, according to Rahman.
Update, 12:13 pm: According to Vox writer Saumik Rahman (NHS ’16), who lives on the floor of McCarthy where the incident occurred overnight, students were evacuated from their rooms at 11:30 a.m. and were not allowed to go into the hallway. He says the FBI is in the hall wearing protective suits and that students have been moved into the common room.
Here is a photo through the peep hole of a dorm room in McCarthy by a student on the floor.
Original Post: D.C. Fire and EMS were alerted this morning after the report of possible ricin on campus, according to an email sent by Georgetown University Police Chief Jay Gruber this morning. The statement says the situation “developed on campus overnight.”
“Initial field tests for biological agents in the area were negative. DC Fire and EMS advised there is no immediate risk to the area,” said Stacy Kerr, Georgetown University spokesperson. “Students may remain in all campus buildings.”
According to Kerr’s statement, authorities are conducting further testing on the substance, and “interviews are ongoing” with a “subject.”
Vox will keep you updated on the situation.