Police are looking to question a 49-year-old man in connection with a phoned threat that led to a lockdown at Hillhouse High School Thursday—the same 49-year-old man suspected of having phoned in a similar threat that led to a lockdown at Yale University last month.
Hillhouse High students spent Thursday morning locked in their classrooms after someone called from a pay phone with an apparent death threat.
The caller claimed someone was headed to the school to shoot a teacher, according to Assistant Chief Archie Generoso.
That call came in to 911 at 10:04 a.m. Thursday morning, from a pay phone.
A morning phone call from a different pay phone on Nov. 25—an apparent hoax call reporting that a man was headed to Yale to shoot people—sparked a daylong panic in central New Haven. Generoso said Thursday the two calls had “similarities.”
Police have developed a “person of interest” in the Yale incident, a 49-year-old drifter wanted for crimes in several states. The man was arrested last week on an unconnected outstanding warrant; he was arraigned on Dec. 9 (read about that here) and jailed on $1,000 bond. He has since been released from jail.
Police were on the lookout for him again Thursday afternoon in the wake of the Hillhouse incident. He is African-American and stands about six-foot-two.
“We don’t know if it’s the same guy” who made both the Yale call and the Hillhouse call, Generoso said. “We’re checking out similarities between the calls.” He asked anyone with information to call detectives at (203) 946-6304.
Hillhouse was in lockdown, surrounded by police, soon after the 10:04 a.m. call Thursday. Police were posted at all school entrances.
At 11:50 a.m., police were letting parents in two by two, to pick up their kids. School dismissal was not postponed, but Hillhouse was letting parents collect their kids early if they wished.
At the scene, Sgt. Jason Koenig (pictured) said the the caller said someone was coming to the school “with bad intentions.” He said the school was in “code red” lockdown, which mean students are being held in their classrooms with their teachers.
“We’re investigating it thoroughly,” said Generoso.
Antonio Otero, a 16-year-old freshman, was picked up by his mother, Miko Fernandez, mid-afternoon. He was in the middle of taking a physics test when his teacher said the “code red” had taken effect. Hillhouse trained students earlier this year in how to handle such alerts.
“At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I looked at his face,” Otero said. “Then we all got quiet. People took it seriously.”
The students moved all their chairs to one corner of the room and huddled together so they couldn’t be seen through the classroom door, he said.
They waited that way for an hour. Otero said he connected to the internet on his phone to read the news about what was happening, which is how he found out what the threat was. He also texted his mom to pick him up.
Now Otero has one more night to study for his exam.
Pastor John Lewis (pictured), whose son was inside the school, said he was at a meeting on gun violence and prison re-entry programs at St. Luke’s church when he got the news about the threat.
“Today you gotta be mindful. You can’t take nothing lightly,” he said. “But prank calls take away from the seriousness. It desensitizes you. What’s gonna happen when a real threat comes?”
Lewis said he was the first kid in the history of Hillhouse to go to jail for carrying a gun inside the school, in 1978. He served six months of a yearlong sentence when he was 16 years old.
Angie Jackson, whose nephew was inside Hillhouse, said she was cleaning her house when she got the news about the threat. “I was mid-sweep,” said Jackson. She dropped the broom and headed to the school.
“This is better than what it used to be,” she said. “It used to be: First something happens, then the police come. You do the history on Hillhouse, you’ll see there were actual shootings inside the building.”
At 11:45 a.m., custodian Maribel Fernandez stood with other parents across the street from the school.
Fernandez (in photo at the top of the story) was supposed to start work at 11 a.m., but wasn’t allowed in the building, she said. Her son, 16-year-old Hillhouse student Eduaribel, called her from inside the school, to tell her he was OK.
Adger Glover, who had two granddaughters and one grandson inside, said he was on his way to Hamden to an auto parts store when he saw all the police cars outside and stopped to see what was going on.
Annete Redford (pictured), came to pick up her granddaughter after the 15-year-old sophomore sent Redford a text that she was afraid.
Parent Philip Franklin (pictured) said he was on his way to the school to see his daughter’s guidance counselor when his daughter texted about a threat to the school.
“We just want everyone to be safe. Hopefully whoever did it can receive counseling,” Franklin said. “Now you have to take everything serious. God forbid they don’t react to it and something happens.”
Another parent, Nijija-Ife Waters (pictured), said she called the Board of Education after receiving a call from her son, a junior, who was inside the school, about the scare. “I got a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ from the Board of Ed,” she said. She suggested the board develop a better info-alert system for parents.
A threatening call from a pay phone sent downtown into lock-down mode last month. In that case, the caller said a man with a gun was headed to Yale campus. No gunman was found.
Hoffman said police are responding to the pay phone from which Thursday’s threatening call was made.
If the Hillhouse threat turns out to be a hoax, “we’re going to do everything we can to bring [the caller] to justice,” said Generoso. “These are not jokes.”
Prank calls “cause angst” in a school, he said.
“We’re going to go after these people who call in these complaints,” Generoso said.
Melissa Bailey contributed reporting.