Police say drug lab was operating in Georgetown dorm room

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 11:58 PM

When students at Harbin Hall were rousted from their beds by Georgetown University officials at 6 a.m. Saturday, some thought it might be a cruelly timed fire drill.

It was something odder still: Campus police had discovered a clandestine drug lab inside a dorm room on the top floor of the freshman residence hall.

Police arrested two male students and a campus visitor Saturday morning on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, hours after evacuating 400 students from the nine-floor hall.

Officers initially believed they had found a methamphetamine lab. After further investigation Saturday afternoon, they concluded the chemicals were for production of dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a hallucinogenic.

Students struggled to reconcile the discovery of a drug lab with their image of Georgetown, a prim national university with a scholarly and somewhat preppy culture.

"I would understand if someone got caught doing it. Making it, that's different. It's shocking," said Gina Park, 19, a sophomore from Hong Kong.

A Harbin resident called campus police about 5 a.m. to report a strange odor coming from a room on the ninth floor. Officers went to the room and found "a variety of chemicals," D.C. Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer said. "They did have some heating equipment. They did have a ventilation system."

By 6 a.m., "people were going around pounding on doors, saying, 'You need to evacuate,' " said Natalie Muller, 18, a Harbin resident.

Hundreds of freshmen in pajamas poured out of the building into the chilly morning air and were sent to the dining hall or student center.

Seven people were evaluated for exposure to the chemicals, which can be harmful if inhaled or exposed to skin. All were cleared.

Students were briefly allowed back inside the building three hours later, then ordered to leave again.

"We didn't find out until 2 1/2 or three hours later what was going on," said Katya Funk, 18, a bleary-eyed freshman in a sweatsuit. "It's been so much fun."

Authorities entered the room Saturday afternoon to remove the chemicals. University spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille said there was no sign that any toxins had spread.

"It appears to be confined to that one room," she said. "It will have to be decontaminated."

Displaced Harbin Hall residents milled around among rescue vehicles and drug-sniffing dogs. Gawkers included the university's bulldog mascot.

Students at Georgetown, as at many colleges, are known for occasional binge drinking and casual drug use.

Hard drugs are less common, students said, and a drug lab in a freshman dorm room was heretofore unheard of.

"For this campus, this is very out of the norm," said Kayla Bostwick, 18, a Harbin resident. "This should not happen."

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