By Peter Nickeas, Rosemary Sobol, Eliza Fawcett, Alice Yin and Alejandro Serrano Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Stephanie Johnson was at her desk in the Loop Thursday afternoon when she and co-workers received a text message alert warning of “ongoing police activity" in their building.
The message told them to take shelter.
From their windows, they could see police cars lining the street below and officers with rifles in hand. “Everyone started running and hiding,” said Johnson, 34, describing total panic on the 26th floor.
She sprinted into a coat closet, called her mom and left a message telling her that she loved her.
But it was just a false alarm from a training class that Johnson and hundreds of other workers at 225 W. Randolph St. were not told about. Nor were police.
“It appears to have been an active shooter drill that went terribly wrong,” said First District Cmdr. Michael Pigott, who deployed dozens of officers to the building. “Proper notification was not made.
“There was a 10- to 12-minute window in which we thought it was a bona fide shooting,” he added, describing the police response as “very heavy.” Officers went floor by floor securing the building and checking on workers, some of whom had barricaded themselves in conference rooms or locked themselves in bathrooms.
Pigott said the city would investigate “how they (building management) can do better next time.”
The building is owned by a company controlled by Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump. In a statement, the company said it did not know about the training class and does not manage the building.
“Kushner Companies has no knowledge of this incident as AT&T operates the building as the sole tenant on the lease,” it said.
A training class this afternoon caused a false alarm in the building, said an AT&T representative in an emailed statement. “This was an instructional training video — not a drill or formal exercise. In the case of a drill, our team would have notified our employees in the building in advance,” according to the statement.
"We’re grateful to the Chicago police, fire and emergency management teams for their swift response and we are investigating the incident.”
Chicago police received the first call shortly after 1 p.m. from the seventh floor. The caller said people were hiding in conference rooms because of a shooter, police said.
Responding officers entered the building with shields and split into two teams and headed to the seventh floor, where they found people hiding but no evidence of gunfire or that anyone had been shot or had fired a weapon, police said.
Officers found the 911 caller and learned he had been given information by someone in Dallas about an active shooter. Other people appeared to have heard about the active shooter and called 911 on their own.
As police secured the building, hundreds of people lined the north side of Randolph, across the street. Many seemed shaken and one woman sobbed on the phone. About 1:20 p.m., police began pushing them back and securing the entire block with yellow tape.
The reports of an active shooter rippled through the surrounding area, spreading fear and alarm. At 205 W. Randolph St., tenants received an email at 1:19 p.m. stating the building was locked down due to reported gunfire at a neighborhood building.
More than an hour after the first call, officers were still checking each floor for people. Residents and workers filed out of revolving doors. Many were quiet and solemn. One woman walked out in tears and was greeted with a hug by another woman, the two of them surrounded by others on the phone with loved ones.
“I’m all kinds of shook right now,” Johnson said, standing outside and wiping tears off her cheeks.
Tamarion Dawson, 29, said he was coming down the elevators from the 28th floor of 225 W. Randolph when he walked into the chaos of the lobby. “As soon as I got off the elevators, cops are there with guns out. It was real scary,” he said.
Enrique Memije, a 17-year-old student of Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park, said he was interning nearby when he saw police with guns out running inside the building and people outside calling people they knew inside the building. He heard a chorus of voices frantically asking, “Where are you? Are you OK?”
"I think it’s a wake-up call that it’s not hard to believe there would be an active shooter given the state of things,” Memije said. “This is not something you question anymore.”
A man on the 26th floor said he had recently returned to the building when word of a possible active shooter spread. Everyone started running around, banging on locked doors as they searched for somewhere to hide. He said he ended up in a storage closet with about 30 other people.
“It was chaos,” he said, asking not to be named. “Someone could have had a (expletive) heart attack.”
After about five minutes in the closet, he said police allowed people to leave. “Nobody knew what the hell to do,” he said. “Complete chaos.”
Pigott said the building management at 225 W. Randolph knew about the training class but didn’t “clarify” that information to people in the building. “They were testing their system and people took that literally,” he said.
He blamed building management for not following proper procedure and notifying police that a training class was taking place.
“There’s a better way to do these drills,” he said though he credited his officers with their rapid and thorough response. “We take these events very seriously.”
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