Lamont: As CT schools targets of threats, pandemic causing rising ‘tensions’ for youth

On a day when three Connecticut schools were the targets of unfounded threats, Gov. Ned Lamont said the COVID pandemic has caused rising “tensions” among youth.

The incidents on Friday followed recent violence at some Connecticut schools, including a stabbing this week at Hamden High School, which was closed Friday after a threat was posted online.

Reports of gunfire also prompted an early dismissal at Danbury High School on Friday, while a threat determined to be a hoax was reported at Norwalk High School. For Norwalk students, it was the second such incident this week, after a hoax bomb threat prompted an evacuation Wednesday.

Pedro Muniz, a trooper first class with the Connecticut State Police, said local police departments responded to those incidents.

Max Reiss, spokesperson for Lamont, said the state is ready to provide support if the local agencies request assistance.

“We have been in touch with state police regarding these threats,” Reiss said. “They are deeply troubling and if support is needed to investigate their cause, the state is ready and willing to respond.”

The Connecticut threats come amid heightened concerns around school safety in the wake of a shooting at a Michigan high school where four students were killed this week. Authorities have also charged the alleged shooter’s parents, claiming they failed to intervene and did not prevent him from accessing a gun.

A Washington Post analysis has found that more than 278,000 students have experienced some form of gun violence in schools since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

Speaking at an unrelated event in Oxford on Friday, Lamont said Connecticut needs to do more to curb gun violence, and pointed to hardships brought on by the pandemic as a factor to incidents involving youth.

“We’ve got more social workers and more policing in and around our schools now than we ever had before, trying to do everything we can to tamp this down,” Lamont said.

“And there’s too many damn guns on the street right now,” he added. “There’s more guns than ever before and people are using them. We’ve gotta figure out with the legislature what we can do about that.”

The series of threats began around 9 p.m. Thursday when administrators received an anonymous tip about a possible threat posted online targeting Hamden High School. Police and school officials decided to cancel all classes at the high school on Friday as a precaution.

Around 7:55 a.m. Friday, police said they rushed to Danbury High School after a report of shots fired and two other non-credible threats. While students arrived at school as usual, officials decided around 11:15 a.m. to dismiss the high school early as a precaution as police continued to investigate.

Around noon Friday, police said they descended on Norwalk High School after a caller told authorities a student at the school was in possession of a weapon. Police said the threat was deemed to be a hoax — the second this week after an unfounded bomb threat prompted the evacuation of the school on Wednesday. Police said they are partnering with federal law enforcement to identify the caller of Friday’s incident.

Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury was opened with an increased police presence on Friday after school officials were alerted to a post on social media depicting a student with a weapon. The weapon was determined to not be real, according to Kerry Markey, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System.

“The fake weapon was never in the school and no threats were made to students or the school,” Markey said.

She said state police are investigating the matter.

In addition to the increased police presence, the school was opened in “lock out,” meaning unplanned visitors were not allowed inside.

Authorities have not indicated whether any of these incidents are potentially linked.

Eric Scoville, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, said the agency “continues to work with school districts and with schools to help provide every student with a safe and supportive environment in which to learn and to thrive.”

“We strongly believe that school safety begins with supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health; creating a positive and welcoming school climate and learning environment; and providing levels of supports based on student needs,” Scoville said in a statement.

All Connecticut schools also develop safety and security plans with the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to prepare for emergency situations, Scoville said.

The recent violence at Connecticut schools included a fight that led to a stabbing this week at a bus stop outside Hamden High School. The two students involved were each hospitalized and charged with assault, police said.

That incident came roughly two months after authorities claimed to have found a loaded gun in the backpack of another student, who was arrested.

“This last year and a half has been tough, and it’s been particularly tough on young people,” Lamont said Friday.

“We hope that the free summer camps and getting back to school and the socialization ... was gonna ease some of those tensions. I think for 90 percent it has, but for 10 percent, it’s been incredibly stressful,” he added. “You see that in terms of addiction, you see that in terms of violence, you see that in terms of some of the incidents you’re talking about at the schools.”