By Liam Dacko
Campus and state law enforcement this week are trying to identify who left a threat in the bathroom of an administration building, prompting a shut-down of the College Sept. 25.
Campus Police Chief Peter Carnes declined to discuss the nature of the threat or specific details regarding the investigation.
“We still have a very active and open investigation,” he said. “We hope that we can resolve it soon.”
Martin McGovern, spokesman for the college, said the school is not releasing certain aspects of the case to the public at this time at the recommendation of law enforcement.
In a letter sent to the community via email, College President the Rev. John Denning praised law enforcement officers for their work in responding to the threat.
“I am grateful to these law enforcement teams and to the Easton Police and Fire departments, all of whom worked professionally and swiftly to support us and to protect our community. I also want to take this opportunity to commend the outstanding work of the Stonehill College Police Department,” he said.
Carnes, in an interview Monday, said he believed emergency responders did a good job handling both the threat and a chemical spill Sept. 24 at the Shields Science Center, just hours before the threat was discovered.
In wake of the threat, Campus Police are maintaining an increased presence on campus.
“There are foot patrols, there are officers riding around on bicycles, there are cruiser patrols. We’ve increased the number of officers on shifts just to be highly visible, to be connecting with people,” Carnes said.
The reason for these increased patrols is two-fold.
“Not only do we hope to make people feel safe, it’s our hope too that somebody might come up and offer some information, which might be helpful to resolve the case. What we need now is information. We need people to talk to us if somebody has heard something or somebody has seen something. Maybe some individual is bragging about this or something… It’s all part of our ‘See it, Hear It, Report It’ campaign,” Carnes said.
Reflecting on the College’s response to the threat, Carnes said there is nothing that stands out to him that his officers should have done differently. However, school officials will do a briefing and response critique within the next week.
“We’re going to look at every aspect. We’re going to look at our response, we’re going to look at the response of our public safety partners in the region,” Carnes said.
Campus Police first learned of the threat the night of Sept. 24. Carnes informed the community about the situation Sept. 25 at approximately 1:15 a.m.
“On Thursday night, the Stonehill College Police Department was alerted to a threatening message left in the bathroom of an administrative building… Out of an abundance of caution, we will have increased police presence throughout campus,” he wrote in the announcement.
After learning about the issue, senior administration immediately engaged with the Easton Police Department.
McGovern said law enforcement was “very thorough in helping search for the threat.”
School officials continued working overnight with outside law enforcement, including Massachusetts State Police, to determine whether or not the threat was credible.
Upon reviewing the state of the investigation early Sept. 25, administrators decided to cancel all school activities for the rest of the day “out of an abundance of caution,” McGovern said.
Students and faculty received a cancellation notification via email at approximately 11:30 a.m. Employees were allowed to go home and students were given the option to leave campus or remain in residence halls until the threat had been neutralized.
“We decided to err on the side of caution and let people know there was a window of high alert,” McGovern said.
Moreau Hall, an elementary school close to Stonehill College, was also evacuated as a precaution. Students were taken to nearby Oliver Ames High School for immediate pickup and dismissal, according to a report by The Boston Globe.
After the College was shut down, members of the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad, with support from the Metro-Lec special response team, began searching campus buildings for evidence related to the threat. Joining these teams in the investigation was the State Police Crime Scene Services Unit.
The Roche Dining Commons were cleared at approximately 1:30 p.m. Students who stayed on campus were asked to stay there until a search of all residence halls was completed.
Throughout the rest of the day, officers searched every building on campus. McGovern said this process was both “rigorous” and “huge.”
“Law enforcement was very methodical,” he said.
School officials sent a notice to the community via email at approximately 5 p.m. indicating the college would re-open. McGovern explained law enforcement officials felt the college was safe to open its doors once again after an hours-long assessment, which indicated the threat was not credible.
After re-opening the College, school officials recommended any student who was able to find off-campus housing for the night should remain there until the next morning, as certain College facilities would not be operational until then.
Following the College’s re-opening, the campus returned to a regular schedule. The evacuation resulted in a few event cancellations, although, several student, athletic, admission and alumni events took place without incident.
Overall, the senior administration was impressed with the “orderly” and “respectful” way students, faculty and staff vacated school grounds, Friday afternoon.
“There were some traffic jams, of course, but people were very responsible,” McGovern said.
Although Stonehill officials regret the inconvenience of this investigation, they are happy they made the decision to proceed cautiously with this situation.
“Safety is our number one priority,” McGovern said. Anyone with information that could help college officials in their investigation are asked to contact Campus Police at 508-565-5555.