Breaking: Police Find Harbin Drug Lab; Students Evacuated

A drug lab was reportedly found in Room 926 of Harbin Hall Saturday morning after officials were summoned to deal with hazardous material on the freshman residence’s ninth floor shortly after 5 a.m.

According to Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Hugh Carew and Officer Tisha Ganc, Room 926 residents John Romano ’14 and Charles Smith ’14, along with University of Richmond freshman John Perrone, a visitor on campus, were initially detained for questioning, leading to their arrest yesterday on the principal charge of manufacturing a controlled substance. “No drugs were found. Chemicals were found to create [an illegal hallucinogenic drug called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)],” Carew said.

The three suspects could each face up to 20 years in prison and fines of $1 million, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s federal trafficking penalties for a Schedule I drug like DMT. An endogenous hallucinogen that can be inhaled, smoked or ingested, DMT can replicate the sensation of a near-death experience or a dreaming state.

When a Georgetown student intentionally manufactures a counterfeit or controlled substance, manufactures or possesses said substance with intent to distribute, or transfers, distributes or sells said substance, the student has committed a Category C violation, according to Georgetown’s Student Code of Content. Category C violations of the Drug and Alcohol policy can result in suspension or dismissal from the university.

Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson stated in an email sent at 6:26 p.m. Saturday to all Harbin residents that the DEA confirmed DMT was being produced with intent to sell in a Harbin residence room. Olson assured students that the DEA informed him that no health risk was posed to students living in Harbin, including residents of the ninth floor; only those living in Room 926 could have been subject to health problems. He added that hazardous material experts have now removed all potential contaminants from the scene.

According to university spokeswoman Julie Bataille, no similar incidents involving a drug lab have occurred since she took up her post at the university. “I’m not aware of any incident like this having taken place at Georgetown in recent years,” she said.

Though Department of Public Safety officers thought originally that the lab was being used for production of methamphetamine, it was later found that the lab was used for a hallucinogenic drug commonly known as DMT.

A caller to the Department of Public Safety reported strange odors from a ninth-floor room around 5 a.m. Saturday, Jordan Gray, a specialist in the Office of Communications, told The Hoya. Officers entered the room and discovered the undercover lab, which prompted a response for hazardous materials by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, an evacuation of the building and MPD’s arrival on the scene early this morning.

According to D.C. Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer, the chemical repercussions of the lab were limited to the room in question. “The room will have to be decontaminated before anyone can live there,” he said on Saturday, adding that there was little likelihood the substances spread elsewhere. Piringer added that the Drug Enforcement Administration had taken the lead on the situation.

Earlier on Saturday morning, DPS said safety conditions in the building were being handled. “There was a corner for hazardous materials in Harbin, but the building is determined to be safe,” Associate Director of the Department of Public Safety Joseph Smith said at 8:15 a.m.

As an emergency response measure, DPS officers and RAs reportedly evacuated students from the building. “DPS began an immediate building evacuation as a precautionary measure,” Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said in the first university broadcast email that was originally sent to Harbin residents Saturday morning.

All Harbin residents were evacuated at about 6 a.m. Patrick Killilee, executive director of Student Housing, emailed Harbin residents at 9:19 a.m. to let them know they were allowed back into the building, only to send another message at 9:32 a.m. announcing the area was off limits to students and would be evacuated. Molly Mitchell (COL ’14), who lives on the fifth floor of Harbin, said a fire alarm sounded at around 10:45 a.m., spurring another evacuation. Harbin Patio and some of the surrounding area were cordoned off by caution tape for much of Saturday.

“We were told it might be anywhere from a few minutes to we might have to stay somewhere else tonight,” she said Hall Director Winston Tracy told students.

As of 8:50 p.m., all Harbin residents were allowed back into their rooms, which remained as they left them early Saturday morning, according to Harbin residents. “They wouldn’t let 400 students back in the building if it wasn’t safe,” said fifth-floor resident Jessica Kocan (COL ’14) of officials’ protocol for re-entry.

D.C. Fire and EMS said seven people were evaluated for treatment and no one was transported for medical care. Three students, three security guards and one Metropolitan Police officer were exposed, Washington News Now Channel 9 reported on Saturday morning.

Smith went on to say that police are conducting an ongoing investigation. In his first email at Saturday to Harbin residents and the greater student body, Olson said, “The use, production and distribution of illegal drugs are issues we take very seriously and are violations of the student code of conduct. MPD has arrested three individuals, two of whom are Georgetown undergraduates. They remain in police custody.

Harbin’s ninth floor has been the center of several disciplinary issues this year, according to Harbin residents. “This is ridiculous, even for us,” said Eric Synowicki (COL ’14), who lives on Harbin 9.

Residents of Harbin were awoken in the early morning hours on Saturday by resident assistants and DPS officers.

Linnea Pittman (COL ’14) thought her friends were knocking on her door way too early this morning, but instead it was something more serious.

“It was an RA saying, ‘Get outside and go to the football field,” she said.

Olson suggested a number of measures Harbin residents could take to feel at ease while they were barred from re-entering their dorm throughout the day. “We recognize that this is causing inconveniences and have made arrangements for you to access Lauinger Library and Leo’s without your GOCard if needed. You also may want to be in touch with your parents to inform them that you are safe,” Olson said.

Olson assured students’ parents of the university’s handling of the incident in an email sent on Saturday. “The safety of your students has been and continues to be our top priority. The university’s emergency response team, and many others on campus, have been working to keep our community safe and secure,” he said.

Students said they were surprised by the situation. “It’s completely shocking. I would have never have thought that something like this would happen at Georgetown,” Andrew Strunk (COL ’13) said.

But for many Harbin residents left outside their dorm, school considerations during a stressful midterm season were at the top of the agenda. “I didn’t get to get my homework and I have a midterm on Monday,” said Erica Lin (COL ’14) of the sixth floor.

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