Parents unnerved by gunfire near Stamford elementary school

Westover Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Westover Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — A parent was waiting in a long line of cars to pick up her child at Westover Magnet Elementary School last Thursday afternoon when she heard a distinctive scatter of sounds.

Pop, pop, pop, pop.

“Is that what I think it is?” she asked herself.

Then she saw the teachers who were in the parking lot to help with dismissal run back into the school, and the bus drivers close and lock their doors, the woman said.

Within a few minutes school administrators entered the parking lot, going from car to car to tell parents there was gunfire in the area and Westover was on lockdown.

“In my head I’m thinking, ‘The kids are inside, safe, thank God. But we are sitting ducks,’” the parent said of the bumper-to-bumper cars. “I felt like throwing up.”

Fast forward four days to Monday afternoon. The woman was again in the line at Westover to pick up her child. She got there early so her wait would be closer to the school.

“I didn’t want to be near the street, where the gunfire happened Thursday,” she said. “But then I saw cops pouring into the school parking lot and I heard someone on the loudspeaker say the kids are on lockdown.”

She was stunned.

“I thought, ‘This can’t happen again. It’s too crazy,’” she said.

She texted someone in the school who told her the lockdown began 45 minutes earlier, when a security guard heard gunshots while watching over students playing outside during recess. She learned later that her child was one of the students who was rushed from recess into the building.

“This should not be happening,” said the woman, who did not want her name publicized because she, like other parents who corroborated the sequence of events, is concerned about her family’s safety.

Some Westover students, spooked by the lockdowns, are afraid to return to school, parents said. In other cases, parents are afraid to send them.

Westover Principal Kathleen Wunder addressed the concerns in a letter sent to parents Tuesday.

“While the recent incidents occurred off of school property, at this time we have temporarily suspended all outside (gym) classes and outdoor recess out of an abundance of caution,” Wunder wrote. “In the event there is any further activity in the vicinity … we will take every precaution necessary to keep everyone safe.”

The Stamford Police Department responded immediately, remained in constant communication with her office, and determined when it was safe to proceed with school dismissals both days, Wunder wrote.

“While I cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, I can share with you the following information: 1) the incidents were not on the school campus, 2) the shooting was in no way connected to the school, 3) the SPD is actively investigating both incidents and do believe they are related.”

Wunder has scheduled an online parent information session for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Crime has spiked in neighborhoods nationwide following the COVID-19 public-health crisis and shutdown, an economic collapse and a summer of social unrest.

Stamford’s West Side has seen its share of crime in recent weeks, including incidents at the public housing complex on Connecticut Avenue and nearby on Myano Lane, which are next to Westover school.

Multiple calls reporting shots fired came into the 911 dispatch center Monday, police have said. Officers found 17 shell casings from two semiautomatic handguns on Myano Lane. No injuries were reported, police have said.

Oct. 19’s incident on Connecticut Avenue was likely related, police have said. Officers found four shell casings in front of a residence there.

On Oct. 11 three cars were damaged by gunfire during an overnight shooting on Connecticut Avenue, and on May 25 a man was shot in the leg during a shootout there.

Police have attributed the shootings to simmering disputes between neighborhood factions. Feuds in that area first were reported in December 2014.

There have been no arrests in this month’s incidents. There have been many others shootings around the city this year. them

Assistant Police Chief Tom Wuennemann said the incidents are the result of several factors.

“(Older) kids are not getting the same support in school” because they are distance-learning half the time, Wuennemann said, and “the activities kids were involved in after school are not taking place” now.

“The world as we know it is a lot different than it was this time last year,” he said.

The shootings have not happened on school property but police ordered the building shut down because a suspect escaping the scene may run through there, Wuennemann said.

“We believe we have a good idea of who is involved, but the question of proof that can lead to an arrest, we don’t have that information at this time,” he said. “We are working on this around the clock. We are concerned when there are gunshots anywhere in the city, but when it’s close to a school, we get even more concerned.”

Sharon Beadle, spokeswoman for Stamford Public Schools, said administrators are working with Police Chief Tim Shaw “and the Stamford Police Department to ensure the safety of students and staff at Westover.”

Shaw “has already increased police presence in the area,” Beadle said.

The incidents are unnerving, a second Westover parent said.

“When the teachers are in the parking lot at dismissal, they say, ‘Everybody please stay vigilant,’” she said.

The nervousness is understandable, Wuennemann said.

“We are parents, we have kids and grandkids that age,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to bring this to an end.”; 203-964-2296.