This story was originally published on Oct. 23 and has been continually updated.
The residents of Georgetown University’s Harbin Hall were rousted Saturday morning before 6 a.m. by the sound of police officers whaling on doors. The students were ordered to evacuate the dormitory immediately and leave behind everything save for the clothes on their backs. They fanned out, “like refugees,” one said, landing in other dorms and the nearby Leavey Center, where they promptly passed out on couches.
They later learned — many of them from news reports online — that a methamphetamine lab had been discovered on the 9th floor of Harbin after someone called in a strange odor to police.
But by 2 p.m., the meth lab had turned into a less shocking dimethyltryptamine lab. And yet the residents of Harbin still found themselves outside in their pajamas, waiting for permission to return to their rooms. All of them freshmen, they had known one another only for a matter of weeks, and most of them agreed that an apparent drug bust served as an unusual college icebreaker. Seven people had to be evaluated for exposure to chemicals, though no one was taken to the hospital.
Three young men were arrested for trying to manufacture the hallucinogenic drug known colloquially as DMT, a schedule 1 controlled substance often used in the psychoactive drink ayahuasca.
Georgetown University freshman Charles Smith, and University of Richmond freshman John Perrone, are now being held without bond and facing federal charges of "conspiracy to manufacture" and "possession with intent to distribute" the drug DMT. A detention and preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
A second Georgetown freshman who was arrested, John Romano, is not being charged and would be released Monday, his lawyer said. Romano lived in the room where the alleged drug lab was located. Perrone's attorney said his client was just visiting the campus and was "not tied to drugs," according to ABC 7 reporter Julie Parker.
Government lawyers said the chemicals found in the room were explosive and dangerous. The Drug Enforcement Agency had previously confirmed the drug was DMT, but the school said in a letter to students that "there was never a health risk to students ... beyond those who lived in the room."
“We acted as if it was a meth lab,” said a man who answered the phone at the university’s communications office.
“I’ve heard weird things about smells and smoke coming out of that room,” said Marcus, a Georgetown freshman who lives on “Harbin 3” and woke up in his jeans and jacket in the Leavey Center around 1:30 p.m. “I was hoping to sleep in today,” he went on, with marks from the couch on his face. “The DoPS” — that’s the university’s Department of Public Safety — “were pounding on every door.” Marcus saw about 20 to 25 squad cars outside the dorm in the morning, with officers from a smattering of local agencies, including what he believed was the Department of Homeland Security.
A handful of Harbin residents who were milling about outside the dormitory, all of whom shared the floor with the alleged DMT lab, said the dorm’s ninth floor has become known as “the Penthouse” — not so much because it’s the top floor but because “our floor is notorious” for having a good time. Just a couple of months into the semester, they said there have already been a number of complaints about partying. And now, the alleged manufacture of hallucinogens.
As of 3 p.m., most Harbin residents were still being turned away at the dorm steps, unless they needed to gather meds or other important items, in which case they were given the opportunity to hustle in and out. The entrances to the area were cordoned off with police tape. One student and a friend from out of town, both of them wearing sweatpants and feeling grimy, pleaded with a cop to let them inside to grab some clothes and their wallets, all to no avail.
“We’re going to the Guster show,” one of them said. Unfortunately, their tickets were at will-call, and they had no proof of identification. “We don’t have our money and we don’t have our ID’s. And, like, we’re wearing the clothes we slept in.”
As it turned out, a lot of students apparently knew the truth about the lab before investigators did. “It’s not a meth lab,” said one Harbin resident, about an hour before police backed off the meth assertion. Speaking to the possibility that it was DMT, she said, "It’s, like, the most intense hallucinogen ever.”
Outside the dorm, a group of about a dozen students groused about being separated from just about everything — their cell phones, their wallets, their clean clothes, even their textbooks. Midterm exams are this week, and the day was a complete loss as far as studying goes.
“Do you think we’ll get some tests postponed?” one asked hopefully.
“I had to call my mom,” another said. “I was like, Don’t freak out, but there’s a meth lab down the hall.”
“I told my dad. All he said was, ‘That sucks.’”
“I heard there’s, like, temporary housing or something?”
“I need my contacts. I can’t see.”
“They won’t tell us anything. All we know is what we read online at the library.”
“Dude. Meth labs can explode.”
They discussed sleeping options for the night, in the event they still couldn’t get back into their dorm by evening. Friends in other dorms had been offering floor space and air mattresses, an arrangement that seemed a great improvement.
“It’s better than sleeping in the business school,” one said.
In an e-mail sent shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday vice president for student affairs Todd Olson announced that "the evacuation (of Harbin Hall) has now ended and students are returning to the building. All residents remain safe and campus is operating normally."