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A 'joke' takes police to Angell Hall

Patrick Barron/Daily
An Engineering junior dressed in fatigues and a black jacket, wearing an ammunition pack and a gas mask caused panic among students. Buy this photo

BY DAILY STAFF

Published February 14, 2013

Albert DeFluri was in the Angell Hall complex between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday dressed in fatigues, a black jacket, a gas mask and an empty ammunition pack, causing a panic and an armed police response. The Engineering junior, who only agreed to speak to reporters anonymously before identifying himself publicly on Facebook, said his actions were “more or less a joke.”

“Knowing the extent of how things went, I may have second guessed myself. I didn’t expect a big commotion to happen,” he told the Daily.

DeFluri was holding a sign with a cat picture that read, “Love is in the air? Get out the gas mask.” He said he saw the “grumpy cat” meme online Wednesday night and decided to “take it up another level.”

University Police officers entered the complex carrying assault rifles, later confronting DeFluri outside the complex. He said officers told him his act was “a bad idea in the wake of events this year.”

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said no one was formally evacuated, and people entered and exited the building freely during the response. However, several witnesses reported that UMPD officers told them to leave the building, and an officer stood guard at an entrance to Tisch Hall while the response transpired.

Brown was unaware if initial reports to UMPD about the incident suggested that DeFluri might have had a firearm.

“I kind of realized, it’s like, yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s really nice,” DeFluri said. “On the other hand, I kind of see why these single people that are a little distraught that all these people are doing nice things and the rest of them … they’re not really doing anything.”

“I decided to wear the sign around my neck and the gas mask around,” he continued. “You know, show people the sign, show them I’m not up to anything bad.”

Cynthia Alexander, a facilities manager for humanities and social sciences, and a University police officer went around the building, alerting department offices and administrators. An all-clear was given shortly before 1:00 p.m., after which Alexander said business was back to normal.

DeFluri said he was acting alone, adding that most people were not alarmed by his actions — people smiled, laughed and asked to photograph him.

“I thought it was funny. You couldn’t see my expression, but I was laughing the entire time under my mask,” he said.

Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with posts reporting various sightings of the DeFluri and police in the building.

Communications Associate Prof. Scott W. Campbell, who specializes in the social consequences of new and mobile media, pointed to the heightened sensitivity of today’s society as a main reason for students updating their friends and followers via social media.

Campell said school shootings, including those at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, laid “a foundation of heightened sensitivity about gun violence, and when these things happen people are using new media to kind of crowdsource the story.”

In light of the armed response, DeFluri said he believes Thursday’s incident was blown out of proportion.

“I honestly think it’s an overreaction,” DeFluri said. “It’s kind of sad recent events made people somewhat paranoid about it.”

LSA freshman Nicholas Vaneck said he was exiting Angell Hall, at the entrance nearest to State Street, at about 12:05 p.m. when he saw two police SUVs "flying through" the sidewalks in front of the University Museum of Modern Art. An officer came out from each vehicle, Vaneck said, adding that they grabbed rifles and ran into Angell Hall.

LSA freshman Marissa Allegra said she was sitting in front of the Fishbowl waiting for class when she saw UMPD officers roaming the hallways.

“I was still unsure of what was going on,” Allegra said.