GCC lockdown triggered by caution over reported threat

  • 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. STAFF PHOTO/Joshua Solomon

  • 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. STAFF PHOTO/Joshua Solomon

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2018 12:44:18 PM

GREENFIELD —  A potential threat to Greenfield Community College, relayed by the Brattleboro Police Department, led to the campus going on lockdown for about half an hour midday Thursday. 

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 lock down. The person is not a current student, Director of Public Safety of Greenfield Community College Alex Wiltz confirmed. 

Campus police decided to put the campus on lock down, exercising an “abundance of caution,” Wiltz said. Greenfield Police and Massachusetts State Police, which has purview over the state-owned facilities, also responded. They are continuing to investigate the reported threat.

The initial word of the potential threat came to GCC public safety officials around 11:20 a.m. Students and faculty reported hearing about 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.

Classes were canceled for the rest of the day, so “hopefully they can spend the day with their loved ones,” GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez said. 

Some students and faculty leaving campus appeared shaken. Many were still searching for the facts of what had exactly happened. Some media outlets reported a phone threat, which Wiltz could not confirm. 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 relay ing 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,” Salomon-Fernandez said, 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.

Salomon-Fernandez said this is a reminder that Franklin County’s ongoing struggle with broadband internet access remains a problem. “This accentuates the need that we have to expand access (to broadband) throughout the county,” she said.

Campus officials will be debriefing on what happened and the effectiveness of its response to the potential threat. 

Joshua Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@recorder.com
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