IOWA CITY — Over the weekend the University of Iowa police arrested an 18-year-old student after officials said he admitted to sending a “prank” text message about an active shooter in Burge Residence Hall, prompting authorities to respond in emergency fashion and evacuate the dorm.
Harrison E. Tsimouris was arrested at 7:46 p.m. Saturday — just hours after police say he sent a text message to a friend indicating an active shooter was in Burge and asking the friend to call police. According to officials, Tsimouris sent the text after 5 p.m., and the friend contacted UI police at 5:08 p.m.
The message also spread on Twitter, and UI police responded, arriving at the residence hall at 5:10 p.m., while students were in the process of evacuating. At 5:16 p.m., the student who first notified police called back to say his friend had reached out and said he was “just joking.”
Authorities, at that time, were evacuating the hall with guns drawn — some students reporting being told to hurry and to keep their hands out of their pockets. However, because officers said they quickly determined the threat wasn’t credible, they didn’t send out a Hawk Alert, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said.
But UI police continued to investigate, checking the residence hall and bringing in those students involved for questioning.
Burge residents were allowed back into the building about 5:45 p.m. Saturday.
Tsimouris is facing a charge of false report to a public entity — a simple misdemeanor. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Gazette.
He was listed Monday in the UI directory as a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and university officials didn’t disclose possible sanctions against Tsimouris at the institution level.
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For “safety reasons,” the university is not disclosing details about how many officers responded to the scene Saturday and what process they followed inside to determine the threat wasn’t credible.
Scott Beckner, assistant vice president and director of the UI Department of Public Safety, said the incident was not just a crime, but a “highly irresponsible action that put students, staff, and officers at risk.”
“Although we are trained to handle these scenarios safely, mass evacuations create additional safety hazards,” Beckner said in a statement. “Students exiting the building could have been seriously injured by running and squeezing through doorways or falling down steps. Only by the orderly exiting by our students, an appropriate response by officers and staff to assist, and luck did we not have reports of students physically injured during this incident.”
When asked if the university would have done anything differently in its response, a spokeswoman said the institution routinely reviews safety processes but, “for safety, the University of Iowa does not disclose specific procedures for police response in an active shooter situation.”
Tsimouris’ Facebook page shows he’s from Naperville, Illinois, and indicates he plays on the university’s rugby team.