West Hartford Police were notified about a threat early Tuesday morning, but have determined that it was a false claim made by a former student from outside the country. [Updated, 10 p.m.]
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police responded to Conard High School at about 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, after an alarming call was made regarding a student in the building in possession of weapons, Principal Julio Duarte said.
The school was placed in lockdown, with students remaining in their classrooms.
According to Capt. Michael Perruccio, West Hartford Police were made aware of the call at 7:58 a.m. from a 2-1-1 operator, who contacted them and said that a teenage male had called and “said he was at Conard High School with weapons.”
Police immediately began investigating the source of the call.
Duarte said Monday afternoon that he originally made an announcement on the school’s loudspeaker that there was a medical emergency requiring everyone to stay in their classrooms. That was because the 2-1-1 call stated that a student “in the building was suicidal and in possession of weapons.”
The call was treated by Duarte as a medical emergency, “which is what it was then,” Superintendent Tom Moore told the West Hartford Board of Education in his report Tuesday night. That was when the initial order was for a shelter in place for the students at the school. Over the next few minutes, the call devolved into a discussion of the caller killing himself and other students “and all these bad things,” Moore said. At which point the police responded with their SWAT team.
Officers, including the Special Operations Unit, joined the School Resource officer who was already on the premises, and were dispatched inside and outside the school, conducting a search of the premises according to protocol. Students reported, and documented with cellphone photos, that there were officers with weapons drawn searching the parking lot and inside the school’s locker room.
“Officers checked and secured both the interior and exterior of Conard and found nothing unusual while students were held in their respective locations. At no time were students or faculty in any danger,” Perruccio said.
By 9:10 a.m., the situation was resolved, and Assistant Chief Robert McCue confirmed to We-Ha.com that it was a spoof call, not made from a local number.
“At this point we are confident that this was not a reliable threat, but instead a horrible joke,” Duarte said in an announcement over the school’s loudspeaker system after the nature of the call had been determined. The school was taken off lockdown at that time.
“I heard some people ask, “Why did they respond with assault weapons? Because that’s what they are trained to do,” Moore said.
Moore said the incident was not surprising to the school district, as two-and-a-half weeks ago, a Hartford school received a “swatting” call from a former student at that school and a former student at Conard who is no longer in the U.S. After that incident, Duarte, the school’s security staff and others met to discuss the possibility of that happening at Conard.
We thought it was a realistic possibility,” Moore said, adding that officials initially believed Tuesday’s call was a “swatting” call, “but we operate under abundance of caution.”
School officials worked on getting a copy of the 2-1-1 phone call to assist police in the investigation.
“Once we had a copy of the voice, we were able to say we knew who it was who it was and expected it to be,” Moore said, noting the incident went on for about an hour and that students “responded exceptionally well.”
Moore commended the relationship that the school system has with law enforcement, which enabled the sharing of information (notably the 2-1-1 call), which hastened the investigation. Moore said that because the call came from outside the U.S., the FBI is involved and working with the undisclosed country “as we go forward.”
In an email to families, Duarte said that police had determined that the call “was made by a former student who no longer attends Conard, and is no longer in the country. At no time were students in any danger.”
Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow told We-Ha.com that the administration and police “are confident that there is not a threat to Conard or any of our schools.”
Morrow also confirmed that the caller was identified as a former student. He could not provide any details about who the person is or where they were calling from, other than that it was outside the country.
McCue said that police are continuing to investigate, and that charges would be pressed against the caller if possible, but that the suspected individual is a juvenile.
Rumors that the police presence was in response to a student with a water gun being used in the game of “assassin,” which upperclassmen typically play in the spring, are completely false, McCue confirmed.
Morrow praised the response by the police, as well as that of Conard’s administration, teachers, and students, and the efforts to ensure that everyone was safe.
“The planning and training police put into place worked,” McCue said. “The officers did a really good job – exactly what they should do.”
Duarte said he is so appreciative of the West Hartford Police, Central Office, and others from the administration for the way they responded, and will debrief Conard staff on the entire situation on Wednesday. “Everyone was so calm. We are so lucky to have the support in this community,” he said.
Duarte also praised the clear and efficient communication he was able to have with with the police and the town/school security team throughout the incident.
He said that parents who still have questions are welcome to contact him directly.
“I hope that parents all know, that at the end of the day your children’s safety is always at the forefront,” said Duarte. “I’m a dad myself,” he added, and he understands how important it is to feel that your children are safe.
Ted Glanzer contributed to this story.
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