Police, administrators address Westover parents about nearby shootings

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda
Students enter school on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year at Westover Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

Students enter school on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year at Westover Elementary School in Stamford, Conn. Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — Westover Magnet Elementary School is safe, but police and school officials will continue to take precautions to make sure it stays that way, parents were told this week.

Two recent shootings near Westover shook the school community, leading the district to host an online meeting to go over safety protocols.

“I know that this is a time that we are already in the middle of a health pandemic, and so this on top of the concerns that you have related to some of the activities that have happened in the neighborhood recently, has to be very stressful,” Superintendent Tamu Lucero, who led the meeting with Principal Kathleeen Wunder and Stamford Police Chief Tim Shaw, told parents.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, the city closed off parts of the West Side after gun shots were fired on Connecticut Avenue at 3:13 p.m. Police later found at least four shell casings at a nearby residential property.

After the report of gunshots, Westover was shut down just as students and teachers were getting ready for dismissal, which is at 3:30 p.m.

Then, on Monday, Nov. 23, police received numerous calls of shots fired at 2:17 p.m., and found 17 shell casings from two different semiautomatic handguns in the 100 block of Myano Lane, only a few hundred feet away from the perimeter of Westover.

During that incident, the school was in lock down mode for 55 minutes, Wunder said on Tuesday.

Shaw said there has been an uptick of shootings in the West Side.

He said there would be an increased police presence around Westover, particularly during drop-off and pickup times, as a result of the shootings.

“Anything that happens near a school, it becomes a lot higher priority for us,” Shaw said.

Shaw said some suspects in the shootings have been identified, but there is not enough evidence yet for an arrest. He said there were no victims in either case.

Of the two nearby shootings, Shaw said both lockdowns were done as a precaution.

“If there’s something close to a school, not necessarily a shooting, we’re going to always err on the side of caution,” he said.

Capt. Thomas Barcello also spoke briefly.

“We want to isolate the event immediately and we will always be on the cautious side to make sure children are safe,” he said.

Capt. Diedrich Hohn said Westover is secure, but said the timing of the incidents was unfortunate because the shootings occurred around dismissal.

“It’s the worst time to happen,” he said.

A security guard is on site at Westover, but is not armed. The guard does perimeter checks every hour to make sure doors are locked and secure.

Lucero said the school district did a safety assessment of schools, in conjunction with the Stamford Police Department, a few years ago and decided to add a security guard at two elementary schools. One of those chosen was Westover.

During the lockdown, all perimeter doors are checked and secured by the security guard and custodians, sweeps are quickly conducted by teachers around a classroom, and hallways and doors are checked. Students are told to be under their desks or away from windows and doors.

In the pre-COVID days, students would be told to gather together as far away from windows and doors. But with social distancing protocols in place, students still must maintain space between themselves.

“It’s a challenge,” Wunder said.

Connecticut Avenue had been the scene of at least two previous shooting calls over the past several months, according to police. On Oct. 11, three cars were damaged by gunfire during an overnight shooting. On May 25, a man was shot in the leg during a shootout near the south end of the avenue.

There have been many shootings around the city since early in the year. Police have said many of them seem to have involved the same groups of people, who come from different Stamford neighborhoods and apparently have disputes between them.