GCC lockdown began with email at Brattleboro library

  • Greenfield Community College students leave campus after the announcement classes were canceled for the day. A potential threat led to a lock down on campus for about half an hour midday Thursday. Joshua Solomon/Staff Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2018 11:16:18 AM

GREENFIELD — An “unusual email” sent to a Brattleboro library was the source of the alleged potential threat against Greenfield Community College that led to a brief lockdown Thursday.

The email made a “generic reference to school shootings,” according to a press release by Capt. Mark Carignan of the Brattleboro Police Department. “In a separate sentence it mentioned a vehicle collision at GCC,” he said Friday.

GCC officials said Thursday the person who made the threat is not a current student.

The college went into lockdown midday Thursday for about half an hour, following a cautious approach to the situation. State and local police responded to the Colrain Road campus but left shortly afterward after the threat was more closely evaluated. Classes were canceled for the day but the school reopened to the public.

Some students and faculty received emergency alerts of the lockdown, while others noted they had not signed up for the opt-in alerts and therefore were not sent a text or email. GCC officials said the event was a learning experience for them and they will be reviewing their protocols.

The person who wrote the email to the library has not been charged with anything.

The person who made the threat did not seem to be on campus at any point, based on information public safety officials had immediately following the lockdown. 

Campus police decided to put the campus on lockdown, exercising an “abundance of caution,” Director of Public Safety of Greenfield Community College Alex Wiltz said. 

The initial word of the potential threat came to GCC public safety officials around 11:20 a.m. Students and faculty reported hearing about the lockdown around 11:45 a.m. By 12:20 p.m. state police were allowing traffic in and out of campus, after initially closing off access from the rotary on Colrain Road.

Some students and faculty leaving campus appeared shaken. Many were still searching for the facts of what had exactly happened. Other students said they had heard there may have been an active shooter on campus, possibly outside the main building, but none of this hearsay was confirmed or deemed credible.

Tim Dolan, a librarian at GCC and a city councilor, said there was a “moment of panic,” when an alert popped up on computers stating there was a lockdown.

“We told everybody to stay put,” Dolan said, describing it as a “confusing and scary” time. He said the public safety office was very responsive relaying information to him and others in the third-floor library.

At the time of the potential threat there was a job fair for veterans.

“My first reaction was do they have a gun?” said Gretchen Tucker, who was presenting at the job fair. She said the public safety officials told her there was “nothing to worry about,” and that everything was contained. “We found out the police were outside taking care of the situation.”

She did say there wasn’t much information and said it took about half an hour, although it felt longer.

Student Jenezy Ortiz said one student in her visual concept class received a text message alert stating there was a lockdown. The teacher in the class did not have any word, though, she said.

The class proceeded to barricade the door with a table and put up an easel to block the window view of the classroom.

She described as vague the information she was receiving, both from the one student in the classroom receiving alerts and by text with her friend on another part of campus who had left for lunch. This led to anxiety about what exactly was happening.

The emergency alert system at Greenfield Community College is an opt-in service, Wiltz said. In other words, students who signed up for the alert system at orientation to receive notifications by email or text, were the ones who got the official information about what was going on. The campus is also in the process of making sure all computers on campus have an alert that pops up to notify of emergencies, but this is not yet complete.

The school will be considering an opt-out emergency alert system, Wiltz said.

“This is a very instructive process for us,” said GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez, who started as president of the college this school year. “We have identified areas of improvement.”

Some students did not get any information about the lockdown, Ortiz said, pointing to a photography class that was in a classroom on campus that doesn’t have cell service. The WiFi in that classroom may not be strong either.

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