Rolling Out

Black Harvard University seniors share scary dorm swatting attack

Seniors Jarah Cotton and Alexandra René recall the frightening moment

On the morning of April 3, four Black Harvard University students’ lives flashed before their eyes.

A group of armed Harvard University Police Department officers raided an undergraduate suite due to a 911 call about an armed individual trying to kill two of the students. Those two students were seniors Jarah Cotton and Alexandra René.

Cotton told rolling out that it was about 4 a.m. when they were awaken by police officers banging on their door.

“Immediately, everybody’s just frazzled and confused, like ‘What’s going on,'” Cotton said. “We tried to get ourselves together and peek out into the hallway.

“I looked down the hallway and I can already see some police officers creeping in behind one of our other roommates. That was really scary. I come back to my room to try to gather myself for a minute, and by the time I get out there the police had already opened the door to the suite. They were yelling at us to come out with our hands over our heads where they can see them. We’re barefoot in pajamas.”

The other two students were seniors Jazmin Dunlap and David Madzivanyika. Cotton says that the officers were armed in full riot gear with helmets, shields, and bulletproof vests. They also had assault rifles pointed at the students.

“We’re walking towards them scared,” Cotton said. “We don’t know what’s going on.”

The students were told soon after the police received a call that there was an active shooter on campus that was specifically in their dorm, and they were holding two girls hostage in the suite room that Cotton and René live in.

“I was just thankful that I was alive and thankful that the person was not actually in our suite,” René said. “It was a lot of shock. I think everyone was very shocked. Not only that, but the call was accurate to our dorm because obviously, somebody could call and say that they were in any room. But the fact that the room did indeed have two women in it and it was me and Jarah, it felt weird that it was so precise.”

Though the young women are safe, they say they haven’t been in their best state mentally and haven’t slept well since the incident.

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened to us, but in today’s climate, there’s … a high likelihood that it could happen to another group of students,” René said. “I would hate that it happens to another group of students, and they aren’t equipped with the necessary tools and resources to handle it.”

“There has still not been a single university-wide alert of what happened,” Cotton said. “People are still in the dark, and they’re finding out now from the articles we’ve put out, but there hasn’t been anything at the university level. This is a school that sends out an email for everything else. It doesn’t make any sense for them to have not said anything at all to acknowledge the situation.”

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