Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz
Cambridge, Mass.--- In the 1990s I was in Boylston Hall in the Old Yard
when there was a shooting spree about 100’ away from the building. In this
case it was the good guys shooting at the bad guys. We were attending a
lecture in a granite building and heard no gunfire. We did hear lots of sirens
but that is not unusual since Mt. Auburn Hospital is down the street and
Harvard Square is a busy place.
As I recall no one interrupted the class but as we went to leave, in the
hallway, we encountered the Harvard Police. They are deputized and carry
guns. They told us that two men had attempted to rob a Brinks truck and
that they were armed and one had gotten away. We were to be cautious, or
even stay in the building. They weren’t sure if the escapee was wounded
but they were sure he was desperate.
Having another class to attend and with no particular interest in the
adrenaline of the situation I headed off to another part of campus. State,
city, campus police were swarming everywhere. The police were pretty
hyper in the circumstance. I figured it was better to give the situation time to
settle down and let people get their bearings since there was lots of
contradictory information going on. As I walked with my books in the mid-day
sun across the Yard I did wonder if I was a fool like those who fell into the
crosshairs of Charles Whitman’s scope. If I was someone who didn’t have
the sense to stay inside.
A little over an hour later after class I had some time to kill. The gossip was
everywhere and the situation “secure” so I headed to the Square to see
what was up. There were lots of people, yellow police tape, a getaway car
with shattered windows and bullet holes in the panels, and various store
front windows blown out from gunfire. Clear squares of glass were all over
the brick sidewalk.
The true story was coming out and it was one of geniuses. Two men had
followed some Brinks guards into a bank, forced them to the floor at
gunpoint, and run away with bags of money. As they ran out onto the
bustling sidewalk one of the Brinks guards got up, chased them out, and
decided to unload his handgun into their backs. Since the sidewalk was
clogged with people he couldn’t get a good shot but decided to keep firing
anyhow. He’s the first genius.
The two guys robbing the bank made it to their getaway car, took off at full
speed for two car lengths where they rammed the back of a stopped car,
because it was noon-time traffic gridlock in Harvard Square. Those were the
other two geniuses. One was so injured that he couldn’t leave the scene
and was caught the other ran away to be caught a little later. They were
some bad guys who were part of a South Boston Mob spate of Brinks truck
robberies that had ended in some Brinks guards being kidnapped and
At first public opinion tried to play the Brinks guard as a hero but when the
authorities looked at it they didn’t have the same view. The robbers had run
off with insured money, the guards were under no deadly threat yet this
“Texas Ranger” decided to cap off 15 rounds wildly in a street full of
pedestrians. He never hit any of the targets but he hit everything else. It was
considered remarkable that no one was shot or killed. Harvard Trust, a bank
in the line of fire, had its window blown out and bullet holes in the ATM
keypad where people were standing in line. The Brinks Company was
deeply embarrassed and my guess is that guard wasn’t working for them by
the end of the day.
More interesting than that was the eyewitness interviews done by Harvard
student reporters for one of the school papers. I remember one Harvard
student was from Montana and he said he immediately recognized gunfire
and dropped flat on the brick sidewalk. Another Harvard student was a PhD
candidate in psychology. He said he just stopped on the sidewalk and
observed because he thought someone was conducting a sociological study
to see how crowds panic in the face of perceived violence. A third person
interviewed was a street vendor. He had been selling papers in an open-air
stand called Nini’s Corner for decades. He said he didn’t duck behind the
stand or anything, he too watched. When asked why, he said he thought
they were filming a movie. The last person I remember interviewed was a
black Harvard student from the south side of Chicago. Apparently she was
completely bewildered. Shaking her head she said she had never seen
anything like it. She said where she is from when you see gunfire you run
away. She said here in the northeast they run TOWARD the gunfire.
There may be more lessons in this than I first supposed.
I’m not being dark about this because no one innocent was hurt but it does
emphasize how quick circumstance can take over situation. It’s the closest I’
ve been to a reckless civilian shooting.