A report of a potentially hazardous substance prompted D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services to conduct a test for biological agents in McCarthy Hall early Tuesday morning, leading to the discovery of a powdery substance university officials said could be ricin.
While the tests proved negative, according to a campus-wide email from Georgetown University Chief of Police Jay Gruber, law enforcement authorities are currently in possession of and investigating the powdery substance.
Ricin, a poison which, according to the Center for Disease Control, is found naturally in castor beans, has been used by the U.S. military and terrorist organizations as a warfare agent due to its potency.
Authorities will conduct further tests and have identified a subject for interviews. The university is working in conjunction with local and federal authorities, accounting for the possibility of an augmented presence of law enforcement officials.
The chief of police indicated the absence of an immediate campus threat.
“D.C. Fire and EMS advised there is no immediate risk to the area. Students may remain in McCarthy Hall and in all surrounding buildings,” Gruber wrote.
“There were police officers in the hallway of the floor this morning, and around 11 a.m. we were told we couldn’t come back to our rooms on one side of the hallway,” McCarthy 6 resident Emily Min (NHS ’16) said. “And then we got emails saying there had been reports of a hazardous substance, and they were saying there had to be more testing. Then around 6 p.m., we got emails saying that we couldn’t come back for the evening.”
McCarthy resident Dolly Moorhead (COL ’16) says that she was awoken early this morning by the sound of fire trucks.
“At like 3 a.m. I heard sirens coming but didn’t really think much of it,” Moorhead said. “In the morning, I thought, ‘Surely they’re gone,’ but they’ve been there all day.”
Fellow McCarthy resident Marissa Mason (COL ’16) said she has not received further information from the university.
“Besides the email this morning, there’s really been no communication with [residents] and that’s really frustrating,” Mason said.
According to an email sent by the Office of Residential Living earlier this evening, residents of McCarthy 6 in the cluster under investigation have been offered temporary housing for the evening at the Savoy Hotel, 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
“We recognize that this situation has caused disruption for you today, and we are working quickly to have you back in your space as soon as possible. We have secured temporary accommodations for you tonight at the Savoy Hotel… You also have the option to stay with a friend this evening if that is preferred,” the email read.
Students who choose to stay in the hotel have been offered the use of the Savoy Hotel shuttle or monetary reimbursement for any transportation costs incurred for travel to and from the hotel.
Students were also provided a $20 GOCard credit to compensate them for toiletry and food expenses incurred during the move.
“I wish that we’d had more notice that we weren’t going to be allowed back in our rooms for overnight because then I could have grabbed toiletries or clothes,” Min said.
According to the email, Residential Living remains uncertain about when residents will be able to return to their rooms.
“We expect to learn more about when you can return to your room tomorrow and will notify you as soon as possible. We have taken the additional step to notify your academic deans so they are aware of this situation,” the email read.
Hoya Staff Writer Suzanne Monyak contributed reporting.