Late last Friday, over three hundred Harvard students — most of them AAPI women — received a bizarre, profanity-laden email threatening that the email recipients would be shot on-campus on Saturday at 11 o’clock. The emails identified the sender as Stephanie Nguyen, and arrived first from a hotmail.de account registered to an Eduardo Nguyen; a second batch of emails containing identical text as the first email were sent minutes later from a Gmail account registered to a user named Huy Dinh.
Harvard University police heightened on-campus security, and FBI were called in to investigate; officials later announced that they did not consider the email a “credible threat” and believe that it originated overseas.
New details are now emerging that are rendering this case as bizarre as it is chilling.
Late Saturday, a second email was sent from the hotmail.de account, this time unsigned, claiming that the email death threats were sent by the sender’s kid brother and urging officials to stop investigating and for the Harvard Crimson to retract its stories on the threat. Yesterday morning, a third email was again sent from the hotmail.de account, wherein the user self-identifies as a Vietnamese teenager living in France. The Crimson reports:
The body of the message was not signed, though the sender self-identified as a 15-year-old Vietnamese person living in France and appeared to apologize for the racially charged nature of the original threat, which disproportionately targeted women of Asian descent.
“[I]t is not really meant I apologize for the insult,” the sender wrote. The message echoes earlier ones in apparently asking The Crimson to delete its online story on the death threat. In broken English, the message references sending something through Dropbox and “my list as I have the email made??.”
Additional question arise, however, regarding the Gmail account that apparently mirrored the original email death threat to Harvard students within minutes of the first hotmail.de email; all clues suggest that the owners of both the hotmail.de and the Gmail account may be the same person, and that last weekend’s email threat may have been only the latest (very public) incident in a disturbed pattern of harassment and digital abuse targeting Harvard’s AAPI female community.
The owner of the Gmail account — who identifies as Huy Dinh — has apparently been harassing some of the weekend’s email’s recipients for months. The Harvard Crimson reports that this person, bearing a different Vietnamese name, has repeatedly contacted some Harvard AAPI female students without invitation through that same Gmail account, occasionally asking for Facebook likes or LinkedIn requests.
According to copies of several messages shared with The Crimson, the sender who identified as Dinh claimed to live in Hamburg, Germany. On Aug. 9, the sender wrote almost 150 people, many of whom are Harvard affiliates, a message that linked to a Facebook profile and requested followers. The profile—which the sender called “my Facebook page” in the message—is still active online and lists Huy Dinh as its user.
A Vietnamese sophomore who received several emails from the Google Mail address and was granted anonymity by The Crimson out of concerns for her safety, said the user of that Facebook profile also repeatedly contacted her via Facebook message, and an individual named Huy Dinh requested to connect with her on LinkedIn. The sophomore said she does not personally know anyone with that name.
In emails addressed to “all students of Harvard” or “all Harvard students” — a similar opening sentence as this weekend’s email threats — Huy Dinh repeatedly solicited his recipients for monetary donations:
A July 2 email addressed to “all Harvard students” from the same Google Mail account had similarly linked to the Facebook profile and called on recipients for “help.”
“I am seriously ill and there is no remedy for that I will die in single pair months,” the July 2 email reads. “I like please click on my beautiful Facebook page.” A link to the profile follows.
In another email from the Google Mail address, dated Aug. 19, the sender asked recipients to help “collect money for people in Africa” by donating through the same Facebook page.
A search of Facebook reveals a profile of a teenager named Huy Dinh who lives in Hamburg Germany, where he attends a local Catholic school. This Huy Dinh also has a Twitter account where his first tweet (of only a handful of tweets over the course of four years) was a retweet of Mark Zuckerberg, and Zuckerberg is only one of a few people he follows.
It remains unclear how much information provided by the email sender is accurate, and what the motive of the emails were. However, these emails certainly underscore the precarious security of AAPI women, and the kind of threatening and uninvited harassment that we too often can be forced to come face-to-face with on the internet.
Harvard students are encouraged to attend a campus town hall on the email threats at 6:30pm at the Holden Chapel.