NEW HAVEN — Yale University was locked down and a massive response by heavily armed police caused traffic problems throughout the city Monday after an anonymous call from a phone booth warned of an armed man stalking the campus.
A report a short time later of a man on campus carrying a rifle added credence to the initial call, although police and Yale officials said later that the man with a rifle spotted by a Yale employee was probably one of the first responding police officers.
Police said Monday evening they now suspect the call may have been a prank and are trying to track down the man who made the call.
“We are tracking down the person who made that phone call,” New Haven police Chief Dean Esserman said Monday afternoon.
Yale, New Haven and state police scoured the Yale campus most of Monday before the lockdown was lifted about 4:40 p.m. No armed man was found.
“It feels good now to be finally let out,” said Samantha Brown, a Yale freshman who was locked in her Old Campus dorm room with a roommate. She praised Yale and New Haven police for their response, and the university for keeping people informed through its alert system.
“It just feels safe right now and I’m glad it’s over,” she said.
New Haven police received the anonymous call at 9:48 a.m. from a man who said his roommate was headed to campus with a gun to shoot people, police said.
The caller did not identify himself and hung up before police could get more details, Officer David Hartman said.
Police said the call came from a phone booth in the 300 block of Columbus Avenue, between Howard Avenue and Hallock Street.
Esserman said the caller sounded distracted, and that police began to have doubts about the story as the day wore on. That person “sounded like a confused gentleman,” Esserman said. “I wouldn’t describe his words as clear and concise.”
Police and the FBI are investigating whether video surveillance could have captured an image of the caller or anyone else of interest.
At 10:17 a.m., Yale sent a text alert to the community about the report. Within about an hour of the anonymous call, two witnesses told police they had seen a person with a “long gun,” Hartman said.
“It now appears that the man [the Yale employee] saw may have been one of the early responding police officers carrying a rifle,” Yale Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer said in a statement posted on Yale’s website.
Police focused their search efforts in the Old Campus area bordered by College, Chapel, Elm and High streets, Hartman said. Yale police conducted room-to-room searches of residential college areas.
Multiple SWAT teams joined the search, Hartman said.
Police shut down roads around the Old Campus to traffic and pedestrians. Several public schools in the area were put on lockdown as a precaution.
Many students had already left campus for the Thanksgiving break.