Fact Sheet Regarding the Recent Security Incident at MMC

This Fact Sheet addresses questions about a security incident at Marymount Manhattan College that culminated in the closure of the main campus buildings at 221 East 71st Street from Tuesday, October 1 through Sunday, October 6, 2019, after an anonymous caller made both bomb threats and threatened school shootings. The NYPD determined that the threats were not credible, but the College nonetheless took maximum precautions to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff. The main campus buildings reopened on Monday, October 7, 2019. 

Status Update: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 4:00pm

Esias Johnson was arrested on Wednesday, October 23. He was arraigned the following afternoon, Thursday, October 24, and bail was set at $10,000 cash or bond. To date, Johnson has been unable to post bail and has remained in custody.

This afternoon, Tuesday, October 29, Johnson’s case was brought before a Grand Jury. Members of the College administration and one student testified at the hearing. The Grand Jury voted to indict on two Class E Felonies of Reporting a False Incident, which is the presiding charge against individuals who make false bomb threats.

The Assistant District Attorney (ADA) assigned to the case indicated to College officials that he expects Johnson’s next court appearance to happen in late November. Johnson will remain in custody unless he is able to post bail. In the event that he does, the College has arranged to receive an immediate notification of his release. 

As we advised previously, orders of protection can only be granted to individuals, not to institutions. However, President Kerry Walk, who both lives and works on campus, has been granted an order of protection, which explicitly prohibits Johnson from going to her home or place of business (the College).

 
 

 


The Incident

  • Did the Person of Interest ever get into the building?

    On September 23, 2019, the Person of Interest tried to enter Carson Hall through the main entrance, but was turned away by security, and he left cooperatively. Shortly after, a Carson Hall fire door was left ajar by a student improperly exiting the building, and the Person of Interest entered through that door to a mostly unused and isolated hallway in Carson Hall. That hallway provides access only to an alarmed door, which leads to the Great Hall. The Person of Interest fled the premises as soon as the alarm sounded when he attempted to open this door. After this incident, the alarms on all of the main campus fire exit doors were evaluated and replaced as necessary. Members of the campus community are advised not to attempt exiting Carson Hall through doors marked as Emergency Exits except in cases of emergency. 

  • What was the nature of the Person of Interest’s unwanted contact with MMC students? What was his motive?

    The Person of Interest approached at least three students on the street as they were coming and going from Carson Hall. The College was first notified of these interactions on Thursday, September 26, 2019.

    In most instances, the Person of Interest tried to engage the student in conversation, often by complimenting them and asking if they attended MMC or knew his friend. The College has received no reports that the Person of Interest was violent or tried to engage any MMC students physically. 

    The Person of Interest has made clear that he is looking for an individual he formerly dated. That individual attended MMC for one semester several years ago and is no longer at the College. In the Person of Interest’s last interaction with campus officials, he was informed that the person he is looking for no longer attends MMC. 

  • If these attempts at entering the College happened on Monday, September 23, 2019, why wasn’t a Timely Warning Notice sent out until Thursday, September 26, 2019?

    This type of notice is sent out in compliance with the Federal Clery Act to inform the campus community of a serious or persistent potential threat. To ensure campus communities are not unnecessarily alarmed, the law establishes a threshold standard for the types of incidents that require this type of notification. The Person of Interest’s attempts to enter Carson Hall did not trigger a community-wide Timely Warning Notice. However, once the Person of Interest made unwanted contact with a student off-campus, a Timely Warning Notice was issued on Thursday, September 26, 2019. 

  • What was the nature of the threatening calls?

    An anonymous caller, believed to be the Person of Interest, initially called twice in rapid succession on Monday, September 30, 2019. In the first call, he threatened a school shooting. NYPD was notified and responded within minutes. While they were on campus taking a report, the second call came in, saying that the former MMC student (the one referenced by the Person of Interest in his unwanted contacts with current MMC students) was in the school and had a bomb. NYPD determined that the threats were not credible; a thorough sweep of campus buildings was conducted, confirming the determination. 

    The next day, Tuesday, October 1, 2019, another series of anonymous calls was received within a ten-minute period. In the first, the caller said there was a bomb in the building; in the second, he stated his intention to attack with a shooting; and in the third, he said “something bad” was going to happen. NYPD was immediately notified to investigate the additional threats, and President Kerry Walk notified the campus of a closure, to allow further investigation. 

  • Why didn’t the College communicate the specific nature of the threats earlier? How will future communications be different?

    By closing the campus, we implemented maximum security precautions in response to the violent phone threats. We initially chose not to publicize the nature of the threats because we did not want to give this individual the power to incite fear in our community, especially after the NYPD deemed the threats not credible. It was deeply unfortunate that the media broke this news to our community, but we stand by our reasoning for not wanting to give any added power to his threats. 

    MMC is committed to timely, effective, and transparent communications with its students, faculty, staff, and parents. The College’s Emergency Communications procedures implement our ConnectED alert system to quickly and effectively notify the community of any imminent danger or emergency situation. ConnectEd allows us simultaneously reach every registered member of our community via phone call, text, and email instantaneously (if you have not already registered, please do so here). In connection with the revamp of our Emergency Preparedness Program, we have reviewed the existing procedures and are in the process of ensuring we optimize our use of technology to deliver even more effective emergency notifications and communications. 

  • What’s the status of the Person of Interest in this case? Has the threat been resolved?

    The individual was apprehended on Wednesday evening, October 2, 2019 by the NYPD. As of Tuesday, October 15, 2019, the College received confirmation that the Person of Interest was no longer being detained.

    Since this time, we’ve had multiple confirmations of sightings of the Person of Interest in the vicinity of campus. He has not made any threats and has not approached the building. Campus Safety is in contact with the NYPD and MMC continues to maintain a heightened security presence on campus.

    We remind all students, faculty, and staff to be vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings and immediately contact Campus Safety (212-517-0411) or call 9-1-1 in case of emergency. 

  • Why didn’t the College reopen immediately after the Person of Interest was apprehended?

    The Person of Interest was apprehended by police on Wednesday evening, October 2, 2019. College leadership decided to keep the buildings closed out of an abundance of caution while the NYPD continued the investigation and while new on-campus security measures continued to be implemented. New alarms were installed on fire exit doors, additional security guards were contracted to be posted at the school and around the entrance on 71st Street, and an outside security firm was engaged to provide additional support, including an armed guard. 

  • Has the Person of Interest been connected to any MMC sites apart from main campus (i.e., residence halls, Martha Graham)?

    No. The Person of Interest has only called and been seen near Carson Hall. 

  • Will students be penalized for missing class due to this security incident?

    Students will not be penalized for missing classes during the time that main campus buildings were closed (Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 1:30pm through Sunday, October 6, 2019). Faculty will work with their classes to come up with plans to make up any course work that was missed. Beyond Monday, October 7, 2019, with the implementation of enhanced security measures, students should once again refer to their course syllabi for information about the consequences of any absences. 

 

General Security

  • Was what happened last Tuesday an evacuation? What are MMC’s evacuation protocols?

    What happened this past Tuesday was not an emergency evacuation. The threatening calls the College received were deemed not credible by the NYPD and there was no imminent threat to our campus. However, College leadership decided to act with an abundance of caution and clear the buildings and close campus, despite the NYPD’s position that there was no pressing need to. This was because we wanted to determine next steps and appropriately heighten security to meet our community’s needs. 

    An emergency evacuation would have functioned differently. In an emergency, alarms sound; our PA system activates; and Campus Safety conducts a coordinated emergency evacuation with the help of fire marshals (on-campus individuals assigned to each floor in each building) who sweep their respective areas to make sure everyone has evacuated safely. The FDNY is also notified and arrives on scene any time the fire alarm system is activated.  

    Proper evacuation procedures are posted near the exits on every floor (as the evacuation routes and instructions can vary by location). General information about safety and evacuation procedures is shared with all students, faculty, and staff at the beginning of each semester. Instructions were most recently shared by James Cambria, Director of Security, via email on September 5, 2019. 

  • If necessary, how would individuals evacuate Martha Graham studios?

    People would exit either using the stairs leading to the front door or using the stairs that are in the basement via the door next to the security desk on the lower level. Students and faculty are instructed to gather at a meeting point on the north side of 63rd Street, where a headcount can be taken and further instruction given.  

  • What steps does/will MMC take to ensure widespread awareness of campus evacuation plans and emergency procedures?

    Beyond the evacuation procedures posted on every floor of the College and emails that are regularly disseminated each semester, MMC’s Campus Safety offers emergency preparedness trainings to faculty and staff. Additionally, campus-wide drills and emergency trainings are an essential component of MMC’s revamped Emergency Preparedness Program, which the College has been working on since Fall 2017 in consultation with risk assessment and emergency preparedness and management experts. The enhanced Emergency Preparedness Program includes an updated and revised Emergency Operations Plan, updated emergency protocols, improved emergency notifications and communications, emergency preparedness trainings, and emergency preparedness drills and exercises (to supplement what we are already doing).   

    The College leadership has participated in several trainings and a table-top exercises in Spring 2019 in preparation for rolling out the updated Emergency Operations Plan. Next steps in the process include socializing the plans within the MMC community, integrating updated procedures into daily practice, and increasing availability/frequency of emergency preparedness trainings and drills.  

    Like many of you, the College leadership recognized that campus communities often do not take emergency preparedness seriously until there is an active threat, which is why so much work has been done in this area at MMC. Plans for additional trainings and drills have been in the works, and you can be sure that we are moving as quickly as possible to continue to improve the MMC community’s access to and understanding of emergency procedures.  

  • What does the new OneCard system accomplish in terms of security?

    The new OneCard  mobile ID  system that was implemented at the start of this academic year provides the following updated security related features:   

    • T he College is able to determine all individuals who have accessed campus at any point throughout each day ;  
    • If  someone tries to access the building and does not have a valid barcode, campus safety receives an alert in real time and is able to stop the individual ;  
    • The  digital  OneCard  ID   is   complemented  by a visual confirmation  by the security guard(s) manning the entrance. When a person scans in, the photo associated with that barcode displays onscreen at the security desk and the guard confirms that the photo matches the person scanning in;  
    • Physical ID cards  without a scanning system  could  be  counterfeited. The OneCard ID contains a barcode that is correlated to an individual’s photo in the MMC security database; even if the  ID photo  on an individual’s phone  or app  were manipulated, it would not change the image that displays onscreen when the barcode is scanned.   
  • How long will MMC’s heightened security presence be in place?

    Additional security will be posted outside the entrance to the school and along 71 st  Street to monitor for any suspicious activity outside the school. There will also be an armed guard stationed at the  Carson Hall  entrance. This is our plan for the immediate future in response to this recent incident. The situation will continue to be assessed and decisions about further or revised security will be made accordingly. While we do have additional details about how the guards are trained, where they will be placed, and other specific instructions they’ve received, those are not details that will be shared publicly or in writing , as doing so  could compromise security . T his type of limited detail is standard procedure  and considered best practice  for security operations in any venue or institution.   

  • What is MMC’s campus safety track record?

    We are in regular communication with the NYPD and consistently have a stellar security record. The Annual Campus Security Report, detailing a wide variety of safety information and statistics, was shared via email on September 12, 2019. It is also available here on our website. The events of these past two weeks have understandably shaken our community; however, we are encouraging students, faculty, and staff to remember that this was an isolated incident that was quickly and effectively addressed. It has heightened our awareness and will result in an improved preparedness posture on a campus that already has a pristine record in terms of crime. The difficult reality is that we cannot prevent all dangerous or unsettling situations from occurring. We are doing absolutely everything in our power to secure all MMC properties to the greatest possible extent, and we will continue to strive to empower our students to stay safe when they’re outside our walls.  

  • Does MMC have a public address system?

    Main campus buildings, residence halls, and the Martha Graham building do have PA systems that are regularly tested and updated. We do recognize that emergency procedures in those locations also need to be more effectively communicated to and practiced by the students using those facilities. 

  • Does the school have cameras throughout the buildings to aid in monitoring a threat? Are the consoles to view those cameras in a secure area?

    Yes, there are security cameras located throughout main campus buildings. The cameras are monitored on screens at both the front and back entrances to main campus, and several separate, lockable security officer offices have access to the monitors as well. 

  • What does MMC do about mail safety? 

    Mail is screened for signs that may indicate a potential threat. These include suspicious addresses, stains, and physical abnormalities. If a potential threat is identified on the main campus, security supervisors are immediately alerted and assess if local authorities need to be called. At MMC sites off of the main campus, if this type of situation arises, 911 is immediately called and Campus Safety leadership is notified.  

  • Are phone calls on our landlines at school monitored and recorded? 

    No, phone calls are not recorded. 

  • How can our Emergency Response Guide be helpful in an emergency situation? Are there plans to revise it?

    The Emergency Response Guide provides information that is useful to a general audience, given that we simply cannot predict every possible location or scenario in which an emergency might occur. The College’s Risk and Emergency Preparedness Committee has been tasked with reviewing and revising the current guide in conjunction with the revamp of the MMC Emergency Preparedness Program.  

  • How can people stay safe in the case of an active shooter or armed assailant?

    MMC’s Emergency Response Guide (also known as the Campus Safety Handbook) outlines the general procedures for staying safe in such a situation, and this information is aligned with the general guidance disseminated by the Department of Homeland Security. This information is best used in conjunction with trainings and drills, and Campus Safety has offered refresher trainings for faculty and staff every semester on an opt-in basis. MMC will conduct regular campus-wide lockdown drills going forward.  

  • Do people at MMC receive training about how to handle bomb threats?

    Campus Safety is thoroughly trained on every procedure in our Emergency Response Guide. But, because it is impossible to predict who might be on the receiving end of a potential bomb threat, the response procedure is something with which the entire community should be familiar. Again, this information is shared campus-wide each semester, but we realize it may often be overlooked or ignored. Additional conversations and trainings are being prepared in conjunction with the drills we previously mentioned. 

  • Does MMC have lockdown procedures?

    Yes; they are outlined in our Emergency Response Guide. Campus Safety provides refresher trainings for faculty and staff every semester on an opt-in basis. Again, these procedures are being reviewed and revised in the revamped Emergency Preparedness Program, and campus-wide lockdown drills will be conducted on a regular basis going forward. Specific details of exactly how our security team goes about locking down the building are not made public.  

  • How will MMC handle building access for people without MMC identification?

    MMC requires identification from individual visitors. Visitors for small events are ID’d and checked against a guest list provided by the office or department running the event. To date, our security team has not had the capacity to check all visitors to large-scale events and programs.  

    As part of the Emergency Preparedness Program revamp, we are having discussions around this issue. While we want guests to feel welcome to MMC and we want our students to be able to invite their friends and families to events, our first priority has to be the safety and security of our population. 

  • What will happen if there are more threats?

    MMC will remain vigilant and prepared, but we will not give aggressors the power to easily frighten our community and disrupt our lives. If we receive more threats, we will immediately contact the NYPD and determine appropriate next steps. 

 

Your Additional Questions

  • I understand that new security measures have been put into place and continue to be improved, but what if I’m still afraid to come back to school?

    We’d like to acknowledge that our students are growing up in a generation and a school environment that are much different from what a majority of our administration, staff, and faculty experienced. Gun violence and school shootings are a terrifying and all-too-common reality for this generation and have been deeply embedded into our students’ psyches and experiences of education from a very young age. Our primary focus in all of our emergency and security protocols is to make our students be and feel as safe as possible, but we understand that a situation such as what we’ve experienced this past week surfaces fear and anxiety that are extremely difficult to quell. To help, we are prepared to do several things:

    • Host campus-wide, open forums in which students can express their fears and concerns and provide feedback on the types of communication, training, and resources they feel would be most effective;

    • Continue to offer a wide variety of counseling and wellness services and mental health resources. We urge anyone who is struggling to contact the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) at 212-774-0700 or counseling@mmm.edu. The CWC has daily drop-in hours, and additional resources and information about appointments and wellness programming are available at www.mmm.edu/cwc; and 

    • ​Conduct regular drills and provide trainings so that our students, faculty, and staff feel as prepared as possible to respond in an emergency situation. More details on these drills will be provided in the coming week.

    Together, we will work toward restoring a sense of safety in our community. We welcome an open partnership and conversation with students to make sure that the security initiatives the College is prioritizing are in line with our students’ needs and concerns. If you have a suggestion or idea, please share it through our online suggestion box.

  • How do our safety procedures take into account the possibility that a member of the MMC community—a disgruntled employee or student—could be the threat?

    We want to start by reiterating that we know with certainty that the Person of Interest in this case is not a member of the campus community.

    In general, however, our safety procedures do account for this type of threat. An added safety benefit of the MMC OneCard system is that Campus Safety is able to immediately disable access for specific ID cards if the College learns of a student or employee who may pose a threat. Such a person would not be able to access the buildings without being flagged by security. Our prior system required us to physically retrieve an ID from an individual whom we no longer wanted to be able to enter the building, or be confident that all security guards could recognize the individual on sight.

    MMC has long had a Student Concern Committee that evaluates potential risks from students; more recently, the College has instituted the same thing for employees, including faculty and staff. We also encourage any member of the community who is struggling or who knows someone who is struggling, to immediately contact Campus Safety at 212-517-0411 or to dial 9-1-1 when off campus.

  • Has the former student who was the target of the Person of Interest’s inquiries been notified? Who are they?

    We are protecting the former student’s identity to the full extent possible, but we will say that he is a male student who attended the College for one semester in 2017. MMC provided the NYPD with as much information as we had—including the former student’s name (as referenced by the Person of Interest) and all contact info we had on file from when he attended MMC. We have not received additional information from the police about their communication with him.

  • What security protocols are in place/are being changed for large scale events on campus, like Homecoming Weekend and theatre productions?

    MMC has prided itself on being an open campus and a welcoming community. We want our students to feel like their families and friends are welcome here for any events or productions, and we also recognize the need to maintain the security and ease the concerns of our community.

    We have developed a policy for how we will handle such events going forward, and feedback from students, faculty, and staff has been especially helpful in this process. Starting Wednesday, October 16, you can expect additional security measures for non-MMC ID holders, including possible ID checks and bag inspections. This policy will continue to be evaluated and adjusted as we go.

    For Homecoming and theatre productions during the week of October 15, we will continue to have an armed guard at the entrance and one point of entry into and out of the building. At the beginning of any production or large gathering, guests will be advised to take note of the nearest exit and will be given instructions in the event of an emergency evacuation.

    In addition, as always, we increase the number of guards on duty when we have large events, at the rate of one additional guard per every 100 people at an event. Our process has always been that these guards monitor to make sure all visitors stay only in the designated area for the event (guests do not have access to roam the building), and security guards assist with the flow of traffic into and out of the building. Guards would also provide direction in the event of an emergency evacuation.

  • Will the campus community be notified before conducting any lockdown drills?

    Absolutely. Over the next few weeks, we will be providing detailed information about the College’s procedures for a lockdown, as well as what all students, faculty, and staff should expect in such a situation and how they should respond. We will notify the community of planned drills with a few days notice. However, an effective drill should be spontaneous, so we will not provide the exact time of the drill.

  • The back door is currently locked, with access to the building restricted to the front 71st Street entrance only. In case of an emergency evacuation, would people be able to exit through the back 72nd Street doors?

    Yes, even in cases such as these when the entry points to the building are restricted, all doors will always function as emergency exits. Restricted doors are locked from the outside, but exit is always possible (for emergency purposes only, of course). If an evacuation were to occur, guards and fire marshals would be stationed throughout the first floor to direct the flow of traffic safely out of the building as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • I only take evening classes. Will active shooter, lockdown, and evacuation drills be conducted at night?

    This is an excellent point. There are different students here at different times of day, and there are different staff teams in place during different shifts as well—everyone needs to be prepared in case of emergency. As we conduct campus wide drills over the coming weeks, we will be sure to stagger them according to time of day and day of the week, so that no matter their schedule, everyone on campus has an opportunity to participate and become familiar with our procedures.

  • Can we provide shuttle bus service for students on campus late at night?

    The College is not currently in a position to provide this type of service, and the NYC public transit system remains a safe and affordable mode of transportation. We encourage all students leaving the campus at night to take every precaution you would take in any nighttime situation—be aware of your surroundings, walk in groups when possible, and always step into a well-lit, public area if you encounter a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Call 9-1-1 in case of emergency, and always notify Campus Safety (212-517-0411) of any incidents.

  • Why do we have an armed guard? Can you provide us with more information about who the armed guard is?

    Students have powerfully articulated the stark divide in this debate about safety and guns in schools. Some feel very strongly that an armed guard provides additional safety and an added sense of security. Others feel any guns in schools—no matter in whose hands—are detrimental. We fully recognize the ambiguity and differences in opinion.

    The College has determined that an armed guard will be in place at the front entrance while we remain on “high alert”—it will not be a permanent feature of the Campus Safety team.

    The armed guard is a professional hired and trained by Century Protective Services (CPS), the outside agency contracted by the College. CPS security agents are trained in the tactful utilization of their skills and resources and are recruited from law enforcement, criminal justice and military backgrounds, as well as local resources. Each candidate is carefully screened by human resource professionals and operation managers for skills and work ethics commensurate with our criteria. In addition to ordinary mandated training, each new employee receives pre-assignment training in a state-of-the-art training facility, as well as periodic refresher courses.

  • Can you provide more information about the campus PA system?

    A campus PA system was designated a priority early on in the process of revamping the College’s Emergency Operations Plan. A timeline of the project is below:

    • June 2018: the PA system project was approved for funding and designated a priority. Prior to this, the College did not have a functional PA system.
    • June–December 2018: Hardware and software installations took place. Network lines, equipment, and software were implemented. 
    • December 2018: Standardized PA system messages were recorded and tested during off hours while hardware installation continued.
    • February 2019: the first full campus test of the PA system occurred during off hours. Problem locations were identified and the number of speakers throughout the building was increased.
    • April 15, 2019: Campus Safety tested the pre-recorded PA system messages and identified locations with sound issues.
    • July 2019: New IP phones were tested for the PA system to resolve issues in rooms that are not suitable for regular speakers.
    • August 23, 2019: a campus wide test was conducted during off hours.
    • October 14, 2019: a campus wide test was conducted while the school was closed.
    • October 19,  2019: a campus wide test was conducted while the College was open and fully occupied. Feedback was solicited from community members and problems are currently being addressed.

    The PA system can be heard throughout Carson and Nugent Halls, as well as from outside on the terrace.

 

This Fact Sheet will continue to be updated. Should you have additional questions or concerns that you would like to see addressed here, please submit them through our suggestion box.

Please note that we have received many submissions of specific suggestions for security improvements going forward. Many of these suggestions do not fall into this Question and Answer format, but please know they are being collected and catalogued nonetheless, and are being factored into our discussions and decisions around security protocols.