Multiple false AC Alerts warning of a possible active shooter on campus were sent out early this afternoon, inciting panic among members of the college community both on and off campus.
At 1:27 p.m., an AC Alert was sent via text, email, and call to students, staff, and faculty stating that “[p]olice are responding to a possible active shooter on campus” and urging people to seek secure shelter immediately.
Fifteen minutes later, at 1:42 p.m., another AC Alert was sent notifying of a system malfunction and stating that “there is no emergency.” The college also posted a similar message on its Twitter and Instagram at 1:49 p.m. and 1:55 p.m., respectively.
At 1:59 p.m., however, a second active shooter alert identical to the first one was sent out.
At 2:18 p.m., Executive Director and Chief of Police John Carter sent an email to all students, staff, and faculty advising that the alerts were not valid, adding that they are currently investigating the system malfunction.
Four minutes later, a follow-up email stated that “[t]he AC ALERT system has been compromised” and instructed community members to disregard any alerts they receive. Some students reported receiving further active shooter alerts following this email.
The same message sent out at 2:18 p.m. was emailed to all families at 2:45 p.m.
At 6:24 p.m., President Michael Elliott sent an email to all students, faculty, and staff, in which he emphasized that the campus is not in danger.
“We have just learned that one of the two software companies the College works with to support our alert system confirmed that the false alerts occurred because of a technical error on their part,” he wrote. “We have been assured that the alert system is now fully intact and that we have the ability to reliably notify the campus of a real emergency.”
The series of conflicting alerts was a shocking and frightening disruption to the celebratory air of the first day of Orientation.
Many students on and off campus took to the campus-wide GroupMe, AmherstBussin, to share updates about the situation. Messages expressed a mix of panic, confusion, and concern at first, but sentiments soon evolved to outrage and disappointment at what many saw as evidence of ACPD’s incompetence and disregard for student well-being.
“so anyone gonna bring up the actual trauma this is bringing up for students who have been in shooting situations before??” wrote Jay Baldwin ’25. “This isn’t just a whoops, this is causing literal trauma responses”
“Go hard on the police for f — king up in a way that causes mass chaos and trauma responses,” he added. “Go hard on them for f — king up their jobs. … if their systems are malfunctioning, they need to f — king fix the systems”
Some students noted that ACPD was likely not to blame for the incident. “im all for going hard on the police but this sounds like it was out of anyone’s control… except those allotting funding for arming campus police rather than ensuring reliable systems 😐,” wrote Piper Mohring ’25. “just be conscious where you are directing your anger”
Other students pointed out that some people, particularly first-year students, did not receive the text alerts at all, which poses a safety concern in cases of real threats.
At 4:03 p.m., Liz Agosto, the dean of students and chief student affairs officer, sent an email to all students encouraging them to utilize support resources, including an on-campus gathering to “process what happened” at 4:30 p.m. in the Eighmy Powerhouse.
“Receiving alerts like the ones that were sent out today can result in a wide range of emotions,” Agosto wrote. “All of these are normal. Sometimes incidents like this can bring up difficult things for us. You are not alone and We are here to support you.”
In his email, Elliott also acknowledged the “distress and anxiety” that the alerts induced, adding that he is “truly sorry that these false alerts transpired.”
“For new students: I sincerely hope that you are able to devote your energy to the rest of the Orientation programming,” he wrote. “There are so many wonderful experiences to come as you begin your Amherst journey, and you have a large support network to help you take advantage of all that is offered. Please do not hesitate to reach out for help.”
This article will be updated as more information is received.
Editor’s note, Aug. 26, 2022: This article was updated at 6:45 p.m. to include information from President Elliott’s email to the community.