Gun not prominent in Chester lockdown

| 01 Mar 2013 | 06:11

— The Village of Chester, including both schools, were on lockdown for three hours Thursday afternoon after the village police received a call about a distraught village resident who posed a danger to himself and others.

Early reports told of gunfire and a man brandishing a rifle out the window of a residence. But village police Chief Peter Graziano said they never saw a gun throughout the hourslong standoff at 26 High Street. The incident started at around 1:30 p.m. and ended safely at about 4:30 p.m. with the arrest of Jared Totten, 30, on charges of making a terroristic threat, a felony; and menacing, a misdemeanor. Totten was taken right to jail, not to the hospital, as The Chronicle had earlier reported.

Police have been unable to confirm that any gun shots were fired in the village. A loaded .22 caliber rifle was in Totten's house at the time, Graziano said, but it was never pointed at anyone.

The police didn't even see Totten until he walked out of the house at the end of three hours, ending the standoff. State police negotiators had been communicating with him by bullhorn, Graziano said.

Graziano said there was confusion at the start of the incident, as people speculated on Facebook and other venues about what was going on downtown.

Still, it was a stressful afternoon for many people in the village and schools. Totten had barricaded himself in his house and threatened to shoot officers and himself. And it was concerning to police that Totten's house and windows faced Main Street, with a clear line of sight to village hall and the police station.

The town police blocked off a section of the village to car and pedestrian traffic, including High Street, Main Street, Route 94, Academy Avenue, and the school campuses. People who found themselves in the lockdown area when the incident started stayed put until just before 5:30 p.m. No one was allowed to enter the area during that time either.

The Chester Academy and elementary school were also on lockdown. Graziano said he told the school only that school buses should not come down Main Street until the incident was resolved. But the school took the extra precaution of keeping students locked in their classrooms.

Totten's crisis was precipitated by a difficult breakup with his girlfriend, Graziano said. The village police had very recently responded to a "domestic-related incident" at Totten's residence. Then, on Thursday, they received a call from a female, possibly the sister of Totten's former girlfriend, warning that Totten appeared to be a threat to himself or others.

The New York State Police in Monroe said a two-person team trained in negotiating with "barricaded subjects" were able to get him out of the house without harm to anyone.

The state police said they knew all along the man was alone, and that there were no hostages to worry about. A woman who lived in a separate apartment in the same residence was evacuated during the standoff.

A long day for students and parents

Students and parents spent a nightmarish afternoon of worry. Not much information was available, said Danielle August, whose ninth-grader finally returned home at 4:45 p.m., much later than her usual 2:30. It was then that August got a text message from the school saying that a "dangerous disturbance" put the school on "lockdown," and that the school would conduct a "controlled dismissal."

August didn't hear anything else until a 4 p.m. follow-up text from the school.

"It is so stressful," she said. "It is ungodly stressful."

She said students didn't know much either, according to the account her daughter gave her. At about 1:30, an announcement over the PA system telling teachers to check their email immediately.

Each classroom was kept locked, with students leaving their classrooms only for bathroom breaks. They left school with their assignments for the next day.

The day was even longer for elementary school students, August said. The last bus returned the littlest children home at the relatively late hour of 5:40.

August said she'd heard that some parents who showed up at the school were able to take their children home early. She said she wished she knew what was possible, and to have gotten more information generally throughout the course of an anxious day.