Threat interrupts senior thesis show

IMG_2705 (1)By Cassy Sottile

News Editor

A performance of “Loot” by Joe Orton, directed by senior Colin Higgins, was stopped duirng its closing show on Saturday Nov. 10 due to threat of a suspected weapon in Tawes Theatre.

According to Director of Public Safety Brandon McFayden, a caller reported to Public Safety a possibly disgruntled and upset student was in possession of a weapon.

Both Public Safety and the Chestertown Police Department responded to the call.

“We were provided the name of the student in the original call,” McFayden said. “However, the confusion came when someone identified the wrong seating assignment of where they believed the student was sitting.”

According to McFayden, the dim lights of the theater for the show also contributed to the difficulty identifying someone.

Sarah Feyerherm, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, also arrived on scene.

“Any time there is an incident or crisis that has directly impacted students, part of my Student Affairs ‘shop’ is a public safety responder. My role is to show up and help coordinate any communication and help determine what steps are needed to support students, both impacted directly and those who were just in attendance,” Feyerherm said.

Prior to the first student being detained, public safety officer Brett VanZant entered the theater and sat where the ushers normally sit in an attempt to locate the student in the theater.

“Initially, we did not know if the student was present in the theater,” McFayden said.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., police officers entered Tawes Theatre while sophomore Dominic Delcoco and senior Patrick Huff were onstage in a fight scene. Huff’s character had just slapped Delcoco and was waiting for the entrance of another two actors when officers entered the theater from backstage and detained a student who they believed possessed a weapon.

The detained student was not who the police were looking for.

According to McFayden, Chestertown Police are responsible for law enforcement in Chestertown. When incidents occur that require police assistance, CPD is responsible for making the decision on how the situation is handled.

“Law enforcement were given a general description of the student. Unfortunately, the first student bore a very slight resemblance to him and was detained very briefly,” Feyerherm said.

Feyerherm spoke to the first student and asked if they had any needs.

According to Feyerherm, as soon as law enforcement realized it was the wrong person, they reconvened to identify the correct student. 

At approximately 8:45 p.m., the police re-entered the theater to detain the student the caller reported. The student was found to not have possess a weapon. The show had been paused up until this time, when police evacucated Tawes Theatre. Ushers helped audience members evacuate first to Martha Washington Square, then to the Casey Academic Center. Ushers checked the theater and brought all personal belongings to the CAC.

Higgins spoke with law enforcement and Gibson Center for the Arts staff and decided to end the show.

“After the first student was detained, the lights came up and we were told that we were allowed to exit only if we had to. I left the theatre to check on my cast and crew, but was barred from going backstage. I was then escorted out of the theater, as they sent more people out onto the Cater Walk. I conversed with theater staff and said that if the show were to continue, it would have been in poor taste after tonight’s events,” Higgins said.

Audience members went home, and once the all-clear was received, cast and crew re-entered the building to strike the show.

John Fuller of Counseling Services and other counselors were immediately available for those waiting inside the CAC.

It was determined that there was no actual threat to the students. However, McFayden said that they “don’t want to discourage people from coming forward and reporting things that seem suspicious to them.”

Cast and crew remained backstage after police detained the first student.

“In an incident like this, the decisions are made that best protect the safety of everyone involved, including the cast and crew. Often that means keeping those decisions between the law enforcement personnel who are responding to the call,” McFayden said.

At 9:02 p.m. on Nov. 10, an all-clear WAC Alert was sent out to students.

“We did not automatically put out a WAC alert call because the call was vague and at the time, unsubstantiated. We sent out something afterwards because enough people knew something had happened due to the amount of cops on the Cater Walk. We wanted to alert that something happened, but that there was not an active threat,” Feyerherm said.

According to an email sent by President Kurt Landgraf on Sunday, Nov. 11, it appeared that what the witness thought might be a gun was actually a cell phone, and the student agreed to a search of their room and car, where nothing suspicious was found.

“Given the climate of today’s world and recent incidents, it’s not unusual for people to be more vigilant and make reports when they see something they believe is suspicious. We would much rather be in this situation where it ended up being nothing than the alternative,” Landgraf said in the email.

At 9:43 p.m., Feyerherm followed up with an email that gave a little more information of what happened.

“The first goal is to keep everyone safe. Then we give enough information so they don’t spread more rumors, which is why I sent my email. The email that Kurt sent out was to be transparent with the community about what happened,” Feyerherm said.

In addition to CPD responding, officers from Kent County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryland State Police arrived to help as well.

“This incident demonstrated the professionalism and team work of our local law enforcement departments. They quickly provided us with the manpower and resources we needed to prevent a potentially dangerous situation,” McFayden said.

Students are encouraged to call Public Safety any time they see or hear something that could potentially be dangerous.

“We want everyone to continue to call us with any concerns for safety they have,” McFayden said.

In the days following the incident, if any student needs support, please contact Health and Counseling Services Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. at (410) 778-7261 or the local Mobile Crisis Response Team at (888) 407-8018.

“While it was a scary experience, I am glad that everyone is all right and no one was harmed. We are aware that it was a false alarm, but I agree that it will always be safer than sorry. I hope it does not deter anyone from going and supporting other shows,” Higgins said.


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