Threat leads to day of fear at Greenwich High School
GREENWICH — What began as an ordinary day of classes turned into an ordeal of anxiety and aggravation for thousands of Greenwich High School students and their parents Wednesday.
“A teacher came into our classroom and told everyone to get down,” said junior Gabriella Contadino, 16. “We were sitting on the floor for three hours. It was scary, nobody told us anything.”
Dozens of police officers rushed to the Hillside Road campus after a threat against the school community was found scrawled in a girl’s bathroom shortly after noon. The school was immediately placed in a state of security confinement, and some 2,000 students were searched, a process that took several hours.
“It was a threat that was communicated through graffiti on a wall in a bathroom, and it was specific to a time and location,” said police spokesman Lt. Kraig Gray.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
“It was a threat of violence, the exact particulars regarding it can’t be released,” said the lieutenant. The message was found in a bathroom stall and relayed to school security.
After conferring with school administrators, police took steps to lock down the school and begin a search for weapons. Students were kept inside classrooms and then patted down individually. Bags were also searched by officers.
Police said no arrests had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.
The lockdown ended shortly before 4 p.m., long past the school’s regular 2:15 p.m. dismissal. Students who rushed outside when the alert was suspended let out an audible sigh of relief.
“Terrible day,” said Heather Friedman, who gave her daughter, Amanda, 15, a big hug moments after students finally filed out of the school’s doors.
A number of parents got alarming texts from their kids when the lockdown was first announced, awakening dormant fears suppressed after past reports of tragedies at other schools in other places. School and police authorities sent repeated messages during the lockdown that students were not in danger.
“I can’t believe it. I’ve been here 20 years and never heard anything like it,” said a mother, Betty Rejas, waiting outside the school. “Thank god the kids are safe.”
“It was a scary moment,” she said of receiving the text from her son.
Students said the afternoon in confinement was difficult and nerve-wracking.
“It was scary at first, none of us knew what was happening,” said William Franco, 17, a senior. “It was a pain after that. They were searching every kid.”
Lt. Gray said the police appreciated the cooperation they received. “The students did an excellent job complying — good cooperation from students and parents,” he said.
Parents were advised to stay away from the school during the enforced confinement, and they mostly heeded the advisory.
A police investigation into the threat will continue. “We are taking this very seriously,” said the police spokesman.
Students were sending out photos and texts of the scene inside the school during the lockdown.
“I have some friends that posted on social media, on Snapchat, of kids getting patted down by cops. The cafeteria is trashed in the picture,” said David Sorbaro, 17, a Brunswick School student who was at a nearby gas station.
Superintendent of Schools Sal Corda said the school community should feel safe in the knowledge that security procedures worked ”flawlessly.”
“Students did an outstanding job in following the directions of the staff. The high school administration and the staff acted with a high level of professionalism and evidenced the strongest of concerns for student safety at every step of the process,” he said in a statement. “The Greenwich Police Department had an imposing presence, guided our actions at every step, and facilitated a smooth process where every room was thoroughly searched and every student was appropriately searched by a male or female member of the high school staff.”
Darien High School went through a lockdown and similar search on March 24 when a threatening message was found in a bathroom. Greenwich police aren’t commenting on any linkages, if any, with the other school case.
The security alert also disrupted other events at the school, and after school activities were canceled for the high school. Continuing Education was held, as was a choral concert.