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Experts: Conn. Campus Lockdown Was Merited

The heavy police presence and campus-wide lockdown Monday at Central Connecticut State University drew questions about whether officials overreacted to what apparently was a false alarm, but experts contend that law enforcement cannot be too careful when responding to a potential gunman.

Four SWAT teams and dozens of officers, all heavily armed, arrived at CCSU Monday afternoon after the New Britain Police Department received reports of a man carrying a gun and a sword. The school was put on lockdown, classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day and students were told to stay in their rooms, away from the windows, with their cell phones on silent or vibrate.

Officers worked overtime hours and those on campus spent the afternoon in panic -- all for what appears to be a student who walked through campus with a Halloween costume on. CCSU senior David Kyem, was charged with breach of peace and released on bail.

Photos released by the college Tuesday show Kyem walking into a dorm with a black mask and hood on. He was dressed in camouflage pants, had a sword strapped to his back and was carrying a backpack. Kyem apologized Monday in an interview with The Courant for what he called a "misunderstanding."

The sword "wasn't plastic," CCSU Police Chief Chris Cervoni said Tuesday afternoon. "It looked like metal."

There are no more charges for Kyem "at this moment," he said Tuesday. "We're still compiling information."

The university also released photos of the evidence police seized after serving a search warrant Monday night. Among the pictures is one of a vest that looks like the kind a S.W.A.T. team member would wear.

Cervoni said he has "only heard praises" for how his department responded.

Experts say that in such situations, law enforcement cannot afford to be anything but cautious.

"On the security and law enforcement side of it, they almost can't overreact anymore," said Michael J. Clark, a criminal justice professor at University of New Haven and a former FBI Special Agent.

School shootings in recent years have put those responsible for keeping campuses safe on high alert. None made officials more starkly aware of what is at stake than the slayings of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last year.

"Everyone's protocol has changed since Newtown, here in Connecticut and also nationally," said Clark. Clark acknowledged that the response Monday probably would not have been "quite as significant" were it not for the Dec. 14 slayings.

"Ever since Newtown, every law enforcement agency in the country and especially the state of Connecticut has really put new processes in place," he said.

Clark said that in the 14 years since the shooting at Columbine High in Colorado and the 11 months since Newtown, "the world has changed."

Greg Crane, a former SWAT officer, said that questioning the appropriateness of police response is easy to do after the fact if a threat does not turn out to be legitimate.

"In the aftermath, it's easy to say, 'hey that was such an overreaction'," he said. "But when the call comes in, there's no longer time to get that report verified before we start sending the cavalry."

Crane is a founder of ALICE, a program that trains students to respond to active shooter situations. Since Columbine, he said, law enforcement's response to reports of active shooter situations has been first to react and then to verify.

"That's something that's evolved over time. I don't see law enforcement going back to the day of sending two or three officers and verifying [the reports]. That's just not the case anymore."

Monday night, Kyem told the Courant that he wore the costume when he returned from a weekend at the University of Connecticut because he couldn't fit all of the costume pieces into his backpack. A friend dropped him off in downtown New Britain, he said, and he caught a bus to campus.

Kyem said he was he was trying to get back to his dorm room to change and then get to a business meeting when the lockdown was ordered. He said Monday night that he had no idea he was the one who had prompted it.

"My first thought was, 'Oh gosh, what's going on?' " he said.

About an hour into the lockdown, he said he got telephone calls from friends telling him they thought he was the person police were looking for.

"My friends started calling me and saying, 'Hey Dave, I think somebody got your Halloween costume confused with a gunman,' " he said.

Kyem said he and his roommates remained in their room until a New Britain police sergeant called him on his cellphone "and gave me and my roommates directions to come out." They were taken into custody.

Police did not identify the two roommates and on Monday night did not say anyone but Kyem had been charged.

Kyem said his costume was supposed to be the character Snake Eyes from the G.I. Joe movies and toys, and included a tactical vest, camouflage pants, boots, a hat, a wind-resistant mask, goggles, a sword and a gun.

Copyright 2013 - The Hartford Courant

McClatchy-Tribune News Service