Police, firefighters respond to large crowd during ‘Crossett Christmas’ at Amherst College; fire-code violations found

Last modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
AMHERST — Several fire-code violations were discovered on the Amherst College campus after town police officers and firefighters responded to an out-of-control party early Sunday morning.

An annual gathering at Crossett Hall, a social dorm with large common areas, drew an estimated 2,000 college-age people Saturday night, with many believed to have come from off campus. Authorities reported property damage and fights.

Amherst police, responding to a request from Amherst College police, sent seven officers to the event known as “Crossett Christmas” at 12:19 a.m. Sunday.

Detective Michael Forcum said the officers were there for about an hour. There were no arrests or any major incidents as police moved along students who did not attend Amherst College.

Fire alarms were pulled late Saturday night and early Sunday morning in that area of campus, prompting a response from Amherst firefighters to ensure that there was no active fire at Crossett or any other buildings in the social dorm quad. The first false alarm came in at 11:05 p.m. Saturday at Stone Hall, followed at 11:55 p.m. at Crossett and at 1:26 a.m. Sunday at Pond Hall.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the buildings were overcrowded and firefighters discovered several problems that needed to be addressed before students could move back in for the night.

“During that whole party thing, we had a bunch of false alarms, had an issue of furnishings that shouldn’t be there blocking exits and found live Christmas trees,” said Nelson, observing that the trees were dried out and a hazard.

Christmas trees are among the holiday decorations prohibited in Amherst College dorms based on the state’s fire prevention regulations.

Nelson said he expects to work with Richard Mears, the environmental health and safety manager for Amherst College, to ensure that students understand the dangers posed.

Also, two intoxicated people on campus needed treatment Sunday, at 1:26 a.m. at Pond and at 2:56 a.m. at Seelye dormitory.

College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin addressed the events in an email message sent Sunday afternoon to the campus community. She described what happened as “disturbing incidents,” including damage to a menorah displayed on the common in front of Valentine Hall, vandalism to dorm rooms and physical altercations.

“The extent of the police presence, which was occasioned by the dangers associated with overcrowding, and the measures taken by the police alarmed many on the campus,” Martin wrote. “It was, at the very least, a disturbing and disheartening night.”

Martin said students from off campus as well as Amherst College contributed to the incidents.

College spokeswoman Caroline Hanna said the incidents are expected to be investigated by both campus and town police and charges could be brought against anyone identified as participating in criminal activity. “We are committed to learning what happened, where responsibility lies, and what needs to change,” Hanna said.

The evening started with several small holiday parties that, because they were held in individual suites within the social dorms, did not need to be registered with the college, Hanna said. Social media likely caused students from the Five College area to descend on the campus, she said, causing overcrowding and a situation campus police could not handle.

Hanna said James A. Larimore, the dean of students, and John B. Carter, the campus police chief, are working with students and colleagues to support a fun and safe social environment.