Suspicious suitcase closes off large swath of campus

5:21 p.m. The Metropolitan Police Department closed 23rd Street for two hours Tuesday due to a report of a suspicious package near Fulbright Hall.

The package was a “brown luggage bag,” left on a bench outside the residence hall, said David Sanchez, a construction worker who was on campus working at The School Without Walls. He said he went to the benches at 23rd and H streets for lunch and saw the bag, which had a “folded-up letter” attached to it. Sanchez said a University Police Department officer asked him if the bag was his or if he had seen who left it there, and when he said no, asked him to leave the scene.

The bag was discovered at 1:30 p.m. and MPD was immediately notified, said University Spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard.

Fulbright Hall and Building K were evacuated, Sherrard said, and several buildings around the scene – including Amsterdam Hall and Funger Hall – were blocked off. The Foggy Bottom Metro station was also closed with yellow caution tape, and Metro Transit police helped guard the borders of the street closures.

“There may have been minimal interruption to classes,” Sherrard said. “There may have been access issues in surrounding areas.”

Though there were students in class in Funger Hall, a UPD officer stood outside and blocked additional students from entering. Students reported similar activity at Amsterdam Hall.

“Obviously we’re all flexible, but I’m encouraged by the University making sure that student safety is first,” said Mike Zeliff, a professor of international business. “Ultimately if they are over-reacting, it’s on behalf of safety. I can wait a few minutes for that.”

Street closures included 23rd Street between G and I streets, as well as I Street between 21st and 23rd streets and H Street from 22nd to 24th streets. Access to Washington Circle was also suspended.

Trains were still passing through but not stopping at the Metro station while it was closed, according to a Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority news release. Kenny Bryson, a spokesman for MPD, said that he didn’t think the package was related to the Metro, but that if a station is “in close proximity, for safety concerns they will sometimes block it off.”

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford declined to answer questions about the incident.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Services, the MPD bomb squad and the MPD K-9 squad were also on-scene.

A Metro bus was parked on the side of the road within the police barricades. The driver said that he had been headed towards Friendship Heights, when an MPD officer told him to pull over and “secure the bus,” due to a bomb scare. The driver, who said he had “never seen anything like this before,” had to wait outside the barricades for the investigation to end.

G Street between 22nd and 23rd Streets was briefly closed after an unattended messenger bag was left outside of the Smith Center, but the bag was claimed by a Smith Center employee and the street was reopened.

At The School Without Walls, two buses were held.

“We were going to the metro and they said ‘Everybody get out, run,’” said Kenneth James, a SWW student. “I was like ‘woah what’s going on?’ ”

The scene was cleared around 3:38 p.m. with no hazardous materials found, MPD officer Quintin Peterson said.

The package outside of Fulbright was the second suspicious package investigated in downtown D.C. on Tuesday. Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th Street and Constitution Avenue was closed after someone deposited Petri dishes in the night deposit at a Wachovia Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Matt Rist and Lauren French contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.