Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 2:16 AM EST PINE PLAINS It seemed all of Pine Plains, a Dutchess County town of 2,400 residents, was out on Route 199 Tuesday waiting to hear news of the students who were in lockdown nearby at the Stissing Mountain Middle-Senior High School after a lone gunman barricaded himself in the school, holding a school administrator hostage.
Christopher Craft Sr., 43, a graduate of Stissing High School, allegedly walked into the school around 7:45 a.m., with a disassembled shotgun, which he secreted into the building. After reassembling the weapon in a bathroom he walked into the Middle School Office and took Middle School Principal Robert Hess as a hostage.
No one, including the suspect, was harmed in the incident, said authorities.
Craft is being charged with first-degree kidnapping, an A-1 felony; third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal trespass, both Class D felonies.“It didn’t seem real,” said Dominick Campanella, an 18-year-old who recently graduated from the school and whose younger brother and sister, in sixth and ninth grades respectively, were at the school during the incident.
He said that while there had been fake bomb threats and even a knife incident or two nothing close to Tuesday’s events had ever occurred there.
“There’s never been gun violence,” he said.
The school has around 700 students and houses sixth through 12th grades.
Anne Krasinski, a Stanfordville resident, said her daughter Claire, a ninth-grader, was at school at the time and was able to call her from inside the building during the incident.
“She said they were in one corner of the room and saw the SWAT team pass outside the window,” she said.
According to Dutchess County Sheriff Adrian Anderson, whose office was the lead agency in the case, teams made up of members of the Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police were able to gain access to the school.
Outside the building authorities set up a security perimeter.
“At no time did we feel we weren’t in complete control of the situation,” said Major William Carey of the State Police.
Zach Pruner, a 12-year-old who was in the office during the stand-off, said he hid under a desk for two hours.
“I was thinking, ‘what’s going on?’ ... I was confused ... and a little bit scared,” he said. “I jumped out a window. The SWAT team told me to jump out the window so I did.”
Pruner apparently held a sign up for the SWAT team indicating information such as how many hostages and gunmen there were inside.
After authorities gained access to the building Craft was contacted.
Anderson credited State Police Sr. Inv. Gary Mazzacano with convincing Craft to give himself up.
He said that they spoke with the gunman over the course of an hour and a half.
“He was the last one to talk to him,” Anderson said of Mazzacano.
Back in 2007 Mazzacano was credited with convincing a gunman at Columbia Memorial Hospital to give himself up after a three hour standoff.
According to Anderson, Hess a former psychologist for the school who has been employed there for more than 30 years was also helpful in resolving the situation.
“He did a fabulous job,” said the Sheriff. “He gained the confidence of Craft. He forged a relationship.”
No motive has yet been given in the case. Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Edward Whitesell said that the only thing they have determined, based on conversations with Craft, was that the incident had nothing to do with school related matters.
“Jail isn’t the place I need to be,” said Craft during his arraignment in the Pine Plains Town Court when told by Judge Louis Imperato that he would be heading to the Dutchess County Jail without bail.
Craft said where he needed to be was a psychiatric ward, mentioning he had previously been on Cymbalta for depression.
He was told by the judge that there was medical treatment available at the jail.
A number of town residents said Craft had been in trouble before.
According to Mary Hotaling, a Pine Plains resident whose nephew was in the school at the time of the incident, her sister dated Craft and once held her at gunpoint. This could not be confirmed before press time.
Another resident called him a “whack-a-doodle.”
Craft did not have any prior felony convictions, said authorities, but he did have a number of prior misdemeanor convictions.
According to Anderson, Craft did not threaten to harm either students or staff during the stand-off.
“He did threaten to harm any law enforcement who came in,” he said.
The suspect gave himself up at 9:52 a.m.
Linda L. Kaumeyer, the school district’s superintendent, said that the school followed its district safety plan, which worked well.
A partial evacuation took place during the procedure, she said.
As to whether the building’s security needs beefing up, all she would say was that she would be reviewing the situation with the school safety team.
“If we find something needs changing, we will do that,” she said.
One middle school student’s parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the school’s safety was and had been in need of improvements for a long time.
After the stand-off ended authorities swept the building looking for “secondary devices” and evacuated the rest of the students.
Families and friends waiting to be united with the children milled around, hungry for information on when they would see their children.
“With many of these kids, they’re going to need to sit down and talk to them,” said Bill Stagias waiting to be reunited with his daughter who he said was level headed and would probably be fine.
The district superintendent said they were considering having counselors available today, a day when the schools are scheduled to be closed due to Veteran’s Day, or Thursday when school would be back in session.
The students were reunited with their families around 2:20 p.m. Tuesday.
Krasinski said when she heard police vehicles passing by her house that morning she joked with her husband that perhaps there was a “shooter” at the school.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here,” she said, calling the community “tight knit.”