Evacuated crowd gathers outside UCSF Medical Sciences building.

This Date in UCSF History: ‘Bomb’ Joke Bombs

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Originally published in Synapse on January 4, 1996.

The bomb scare that welcomed many UCSF students back to class Tuesday, Jan. 2, was not another Unabomber strike but a middle school student's joke gone awry. A box with red wrapping paper and a note reading “Happy New Year” was delivered over the New Year's break to a staff member on the fourth floor of Medical Sciences. 

When the wrapping paper was removed on Tuesday morning, there was a note which read “This is a bomb” attached to the box. The recipient called the police. 

At around 8:40 a.m., students, staff and faculty in the medical sciences, health sciences east and west and animal care facility were told over the public address system to evacuate “now.” 

Most people evacuated to Parnassus Avenue, but many went to Saunders Court — hardly a safe place to be in the event of a major explosion. 

It turns out that the recipient of the package had worked with the student on a science fair project, for which the student won top prize in his age group and advanced to a statewide fair in Sacramento.

Inside the box, which was removed and opened by the San Francisco police bomb squad, were souvenir photos of the science fair and a letter, along with some garlic, a garlic baker, and a garlic cellar. (The student’s project had investigated some of garlic’s biologic properties.) 

UCSF Police Chief Ron Nelson said Jan. 3 that it was too soon to tell if charges would be filed. 

The student had no malicious intentions and is reported to be remorseful about how his joke turned out.

Evacuees from classrooms, labs and offices waited on Parnassus as the bomb squad brought in equipment to remove the suspicious package.