Po­lice: WCSU ‘gun’ was light stand

‘Ac­tive shooter’ call led to im­me­di­ate, heavy po­lice re­sponse, lock­down of area schools

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Zach Mur­dock

DAN­BURY — For the sec­ond time this year, po­lice have con­cluded a re­ported gun­man on the cam­pus of West­ern Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity was a per­son car­ry­ing a piece of stage equip­ment.

A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion has de­ter­mined what was be­lieved to be a per­son car­ry­ing a gun on the West Side cam­pus on the af­ter­noon of Nov. 20 was a por­ta­ble light stand, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Thurs­day.

The “ac­tive shooter” re­port, called in at the Vis­ual and Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, trig­gered an im­me­di­ate and heav­ily armed po­lice re­sponse that led to lockdowns at schools across the area.

No shots were fired, no one was hurt and po­lice cleared the scene af­ter an hours­long search of the arts cen­ter.

But lo­cal of­fi­cials are prais­ing the stu­dent who called in the ini­tial re­port — de­spite the mis­take — be­cause they would rather be safe than sorry, Univer­sity Pres­i­dent John Clark said.

Last month’s in­ci­dent closely mir­rors one that oc­curred in June, when a call about a gun on the univer­sity’s Mid­town cam­pus drew a large and swift po­lice re­sponse but turned out to be a man car­ry­ing a mi­cro­phone stand.

“I want to rec­og­nize and ap­plaud the ac­tions of the stu­dent who made the 911 call,” Clark wrote in an email to stu­dents and staff on Thurs­day. “This stu­dent took the ex­act, right ac­tion and we should all be thank­ful and con­grat­u­late this stu­dent. This stu­dent’s quick and

cor­rect ac­tion is an ex­am­ple to us all and in an ac­tual emer­gency could have saved count­less lives.”

WCSU Po­lice re­viewed se­cu­rity cam­era footage from the arts cen­ter and iden­ti­fied a per­son en­ter­ing the build­ing with the light stand.

A stu­dent later car­ried the same piece of equip­ment past the class­room where an­other stu­dent called po­lice to re­port see­ing a man with a gun, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

A wit­ness who had been in the class­room said the tri­pod-like light stand and the stu­dent car­ry­ing it with a shoul­der-slung bag matched the de­scrip­tion from the orig­i­nal 911 call, po­lice said. That de­scrip­tion was cor­rob­o­rated by ad­di­tional wit­nesses, they added.

Fresh­man Chris El­hers was one of two wit­nesses who be­lieved they saw a man with a weapon out­side their class­room and re­called see­ing the bag over the shoul­der of the per­son when he spoke with The News-Times that af­ter­noon. He and his class­mate, a young woman not named by po­lice, rushed ev­ery­one else to the front of the room.

“If it wasn’t a gun, it looked a lot like a gun,” El­hers said then. “I didn’t sec­ond guess it, I just ran to the front of the class­room to hide.”

The young woman was vis­i­bly shaken that af­ter­noon and Mayor Mark Boughton ex­plained she had been up­set at caus­ing such a dra­matic re­sponse for what turned out not to be a weapon.

But both Boughton and Clark praised the young woman and El­hers for their ac­tions that day.

Hun­dreds of stu­dents and staff have signed up for the univer­sity emer­gency alert mes­sag­ing sys­tem in the wake of last month’s scare, Clark said. New stu­dents are au­to­mat­i­cally en­rolled in that sys­tem when they join the school and the univer­sity has been adding staff and older stu­dents who might have joined be­fore the au­to­matic reg­is­tra­tion and had not yet signed up, univer­sity spokesman Paul Stein­metz has said.

Cam­pus po­lice have in­creased foot pa­trols near the Vis­ual and Per­form­ing Cen­ter and cam­pus coun­selors have pro­vided ex­tra sup­port and outreach, Clark said.

A fur­ther as­sess­ment of the in­ci­dent and the re­sponse is be­ing con­ducted, which will re­sult in rec­om­men­da­tions for “the range of pos­si­ble emer­gency sit­u­a­tions that may arise,” ac­cord­ing to a WCSU re­lease. The school plans to hold in­for­ma­tional ses­sions with stu­dents, likely at the begin­ning of next se­mes­ter, Stein­metz said.

Dan­bury Pub­lic Schools and lo­cal po­lice are work­ing on sev­eral new pro­to­cols af­ter the in­ci­dent re­vealed some mi­nor com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues in their re­sponse.

The in­ci­dent led to the lock­down of sev­eral nearby pub­lic schools, in­clud­ing the West­ern Con­necti­cut Acad­emy for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies on the West­side cam­pus, and high­lighted the need to sta­tion a po­lice of­fi­cer with Su­per­in­ten­dent Sal Pas­carella to keep him in di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion with po­lice lead­ers dur­ing ac­tive sit­u­a­tions.

“This has been a dif­fi­cult, trau­matic time for us,” Clark said. “We want to be­lieve that our univer­sity is safe and se­cure, and any in­di­ca­tion that we aren’t, causes anx­i­ety and anger.

“I thank ev­ery­one in­volved for their pa­tience and for shar­ing their con­cerns. We need to make sure that ev­ery­one’s ques­tions are an­swered and that help and as­sis­tance are pro­vided to all stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff who ex­pe­ri­enced this in­ci­dent.”

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