Alert student contacts authorities, potential mass shooting averted in Westport
WESTPORT — A potential tragedy the likes of Parkland and Newtown was averted at Staples High School Tuesday after a student with thoughts of executing a mass shooting was taken into custody thanks to an alert student.
“It’s scary because there’s a lot of weapons involved,” Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at police headquarters attended by concerned parents and students as well as members of the media. “There’s a lot of the weapons we’ve been seeing in other school shootings involved...they’re the weapons we’re all afraid of. The weapons we talk about in other school incidents were all available….There were some serious firearms that were in play.”
Tuesday morning, a Staples student overheard the suspect say he wanted to shoot a teacher and reported the threat to school officials, police said. Staples administrators called police around 9 a.m. and school officials interviewed the student who made the threat.
“Based on the information that was learned by the school administrators, it was confirmed the student did have thoughts of executing a mass shooting at our high school,” Koskinas said. “At this time we continue to investigate whether those thoughts developed into an actual plan.”
Detectives confirmed the presence of firearms at the student’s home, which belonged to the student’s father and were reported locked in a safe.
“To the best of our knowledge, the (father’s) firearms are accounted for. There’s an out-of-state address that also has firearms related to this, so I can’t tell you 100 percent and that was one of the reasons for the amount of precaution that were taken today — because we can’t account for everything,” Koskinas said at the press conference.
“There was also a concern for ghost guns,” Koskinas said, adding no weapons were found on the premises of Staples High School. Ghost guns are guns purchasable on the internet and 80 percent complete, only requiring a few extra pieces to function, Koskinas said.
Westport police are acting on two search warrants with the assistance of the major crimes unit of the state police, Koskinas said.
The student who made the threat is in custody and being evaluated at a local hospital, Koskinas said. Westport News learned the student was being observed at the emergency room of Norwalk Hospital.
Throughout the day, Westport and state police were stationed outside a house on Kirock Place as part of the investigation regarding threats.
The house is owned by Joung and Jaclyn Lee, tax records show. Boxes were seen loaded into a white van outside the residence by police, neighbors reported.
“We are not in a position to release any of the names, but to their credit, the family has been incredible in working with us on every level,” Koskinas said of the family of the student who threatened the mass shooting.
According to a neighbor, there were as many as six police vehicles at the house on Kirock Place. A person who answered a phone number listed to Jaclynn Lee declined to comment Tuesday.
Around 5 p.m., Sgt. Jill Ruggiero and another Westport police officer were seen leaving Kirock Place. Ruggiero said the important thing was “no one was hurt,” but declined to comment further.
Out of an overabundance of caution Staples was directed to shelter in place while waiting for early dismissal at 1:15 p.m. Parents were made aware of the situation via an email from the schools sent at 1:06 p.m.
The early dismissal decision came after a command center was formed in Superintendent Colleen Palmer’s office that assessed information as it came forward throughout the day. First Selectman Jim Marpe joined Palmer in the command center.
“We’re very fortunate. I feel we averted a very serious and possible tragedy today at our high school,” Palmer said.
Police officers were placed at all Westport schools until dismissal and police assistance from Norwalk and Fairfield, in addition to state police, sent a significant amount of resources to help out, Koskinas said.
Monday night Staples Principal James D’Amico sent out an email to students and parents, Palmer said. “If you see something, hear something, say something. I do believe that reminder email as part of our protocol of safety helped reinforce the urgency of the student who came forward and shared the information,” Palmer said.
Palmer and Koskinas confirmed the entire high school is being searched before school reopens in the morning to ensure Staples students and faculty are returning to a safe place. “There’s nothing that’s leading us to believe there is something there. We’re just doing a precaution,” Koskinas said.
Pascaline Pruvost, a Staples High School cafeteria worker and Center Street neighbor of the Kirock Place address, was walking her dog in the vicinity Tuesday afternoon. Pruvost, and other neighbors who wished not to be named, said they were surprised to see police at the address and that they had positive relationships with the family.
According to Pruvost, who was cleaning up after lunch when the shelter-in-place command came through, she, her co-workers and a small group of students took shelter for roughly 30 minutes in a designated room of the cafeteria where the door could be locked. As buses arrived, the students were released first. Staff members were allowed to leave shortly after.
“We were surprised,” Pruvost said, though she added that the group’s response was not hysterical. “It was OK. It was calm, no panic.”
Students reported similarly.
Greg Settos was playing basketball in the gym around 1 p.m. when he heard the principal announce the 1:15 p.m. dismissal due to an unspecified threat.
“I thought it was fake at first,” said Settos, a 16-year-old junior.
Settos was one of a group of students remaining outside Staples around 2 p.m. waiting to board final buses. A line of buses had already removed many students from school premises by that point, and a crossing guard was blocking traffic at the entrance to the school to allow vehicles coming from the parking lot to move quickly onto North Avenue.
Another student awaiting a ride home, senior Quinntin Bravo, 17, said he was in class when D’Amico’s heard the announcement around 1 p.m. He said his class obeyed the “shelter-in-place” order for about 30 minutes before being released to leave.
Though he said students were mostly calm in his class, “it seemed like some people didn’t know what to do,” Bravo said.
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