In the Suburbs / CCSU lockdown: In the wrong place at the wrong time
Published 7:29 am, Sunday, November 10, 2013
I had not planned on going with our charter school's seniors to visit Central Connecticut State University last Monday. But when asked at the last moment, I was glad to tag along with two other teachers and 26 students to tour the New Britain campus.
But I never expected the visit would include a lockdown of the entire campus while we were there.
I've concluded that I am a master of being in the wrong places at the wrong times. But when the incident was over and we all remained safe, I reminded myself that we sometimes have no control over our fate.
This bizarre incident unfolded about noon, after two wonderful Central Connecticut tour guides had given our group a thorough tour of the campus and returned us to the student center. Our plan was to grab a quick lunch, then board our bus about 12:30 for the one-hour trip back to school in Bridgeport.
Instead, we learned via the student-center buzz that we were on indefinite lockdown. One student told me he thought the whole thing was a hoax. Some student -- allegedly carrying a gun and a sword -- had walked across campus and into a residence hall.
Within minutes, texts and phone calls blanketed the campus, and soon we were all ushered into Alumni Hall of the student center, where there was a giant video monitor.
From minute-by-minute reports, we learned that the suspect was tall, dressed in camouflage pants and knee pads and was carrying a gun and a sword. He was being contained someplace in the residence hall.
An alarm already had sounded, and students in the residence hall were ordered into immediate lockdown, with doors bolted and drapes drawn. Students there had spread the word with texts and tweets that cell phones in that dorm should be on silent or vibrate they could hear any outside noises -- like gun shots, I thought, cringing a little.
For the next two hours, no one in alumni hall spoke loudly; nobody got outwardly emotional. We all just sat, watching reports on the video monitor (the images barely changed) and waiting for updates.
Our high school students behaved beautifully and wondered when we'd be able to head back to Bridgeport. My colleagues explained to our students that no one would go anywhere until the suspect was apprehended and university officials gave an all's clear.
I had called my editor to see how far the news had spread. Turned out that he was well aware of the situation and asked if a reporter the Citizen's daily sister paper -- the Connecticut Post, which was covering the story -- could call us. That call happened within the hour, and we described our situation.
Meanwhile we waited and watched.
After the incident started, I had been talking with First Selectman Michael Tetreau's assistant, Jen Carpenter, and she fed me email updates as we continued to watch events unfold locally. I cannot thank her enough.
By 2:30 or so, we learned that three suspects had been taken from the residence hall and that lockdown would end soon. Thankfully, no one had been injured or killed. But reports remained very sketchy about what had actually happened.
All we knew was that a lot of municipal and state public-safety officials were still swarming the campus.
Our bus finally arrived, and by 3:30 or so, we were heading for the highway.
The campus still looked like a war zone with red lights flashing and an occasional siren blaring. Most students had reached their parents by phone and were relieved to be heading home.
The following day I learned that all of this was a misunderstanding, according to the main suspect -- who was the son of a CCSU professor. He may receive only a slap on the wrist and a firm lecture about his actions, and that disturbs me.
Within a very short time, one person managed to plant the threat of attack in the minds of thousands of students, resulting in the lockdown of an entire campus and the involvement of resources from throughout New Britain and neighboring West Hartford.
Our students, my colleagues and I were edgy and upset. I hope more will be done about this.
Maybe the threat wasn't real. But less than a year after the Newtown massacre, how did we know?
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.