COLUMBIA — A rumor that Brad Pitt was visiting MU set the student body abuzz Thursday afternoon as tweets and texts giving Pitt's purported locations went viral.
Students gathered en masse about 3:30 p.m. between the Student Center and the Agriculture Building, where Pitt, a former MU student turned superfamous Hollywood actor, had supposedly been seen.
MU freshman Patrick Mulvihill took responsibility for starting Thursday's Brad craze when he and a group of friends began circulating Tuesday that Pitt would be visiting the campus. The men are members of Sigma Chi fraternity.
"Brad Pitt was a Sigma Chi," Mulvihill said. "It's like our bragging point."
Mulvihill tweeted at about 3:23 p.m. Wednesday that Pitt would be visiting MU. He said what started as an inside joke between buddies quickly spread and took on different forms.
"Social media was blowing up and word of mouth was ridiculous," he said.
When he saw the group of people between the Student Center and the Agriculture Building on Thursday, Mulvihill had no idea it was related to his tweet.
"We thought someone was fighting or something like that," he said.
He never thought what he intended to be innocent fun would cause such a commotion on campus.
"Just that one of my friends came up with it this Tuesday, and it blew up was funny but ridiculous," Mulvihill said.
MU juniors Cara Thomas and Laila Al-Khashti were among the crowd of about 100 people waiting for Pitt. Although they thought the rumors circulating about his visit probably were false and speculated about why Pitt would visit the campus, they said they would be overwhelmed if given the chance to meet him.
"I wouldn't even get a chance to say anything," Al-Khashti said.
"I would just scream inaudible words," Thomas said. "Unintelligible stuff."
An MU Police cruiser rolled by the crowd, using a loudspeaker to tell the students to keep on the sidewalks and out of the street.
MU sophomore Paola Rivera wanted Pitt to show himself soon if he was on campus. She needed to get to class.
"Just drive through with the windows down," she said. "We'll be fine."
Rivera's friend, MU freshman Sydney Trepel, said she had seen lots of students stricken with Brad fever.
"Literally, girls were running from my last class," Trepel said.
"It's just funny that nobody knows if he's here for sure, but they're still crowding to catch a glimpse," Rivera said.
Rivera got a text from a friend telling her that Pitt was greeting students at the MU Columns, prompting her and Trepel to hurry toward Francis Quadrangle.
"My mom told me to kiss him," Trepel said as she walked. "My day's been horrible, and if that turned it around ...," she trailed off.
Rivera called her friend to check whether Pitt was still on the quadrangle, but the friend reported he was no longer there.
The young women were skeptical.
"She could have been kidding," Rivera said. "She sounded like she was kidding."
MU sophomore Kristina Gentile, who was working the information desk at the Student Center during the excitement, said many students were asking whether she had seen Pitt.
"Someone said they heard it on the radio, and there are a bunch of Facebook statuses about it," she said.
Gentile said she had yet to see the celebrity, though there were some false alarms.
"Some jerk screamed from up there (the second level of the Student Center), 'Oh my gosh, it's Brad Pitt,'" she said.
Many versions of the rumor were circulating. Some students said Pitt was visiting the Office of Greek Life because of his fraternity membership. Others said he was visiting the bookstore, shaking hands with students in the Student Success Center and even hanging out with Oprah Winfrey. Pitt did not visit the Office of Greek Life on Thursday, a representative said.
Pitt is an actor who performed in "Fight Club," "Inglourious Basterds," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and other blockbuster films. He attended MU's School of Journalism in the 1980s.
Pitt's publicist, Cynthia Pett-Dante, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on the rumors.