By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Students and faculty in St. Paul School, Princeton, spent the better part of the school day March 20 on lockdown, as police engaged a man who entered nearby Panera Bread restaurant with a gun – just down the block from the St. Paul campus on Nassau Street.
Nassau Street was shut down between Washington and Witherspoon streets, surrounded by police personnel around 10 a.m. Police negotiators talked with the man, whose name was reported as being Scott Mielentz, shortly after he entered the restaurant; Princeton Police Department, State Police and FBI officials were on scene, according to reports from NJ Advance Media.
Local businesses evacuated, Princeton public schools also went to lockdown status, and Princeton University evacuated the two closest campus buildings as a precaution; classes were not in session, as Princeton University is on spring break. Panera employees and customers fled through a back entrance early in the day, officials said.
“Thank you for all your patience and support throughout this challenging day,” Dr. Ryan Killeen, SPS principal, wrote in an email to school families that evening. “While these days are days we all hope will never happen, we have to be prepared for them, and we were.”
Parents were alerted via texts, voicemail and email of the developing situation. “We hope that our ongoing communication throughout the day provided reassurance,” Dr. Killeen wrote.
The five-hour standoff ended shortly before 3 p.m., when police fatally shot Mielentz, said Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, after negotiators attempted unsuccessfully to get him to surrender peacefully. The Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team is conducting the investigation, he said. No other injuries were reported.
“While we enter our evening with a sense of relief,” Dr. Killeen noted, “it is also with a heavy heart, as we know how very precious life is – a life has been lost, and the threat of gun violence remains a grave concern for us all. Pray for peaceful, sensible solutions to the challenges facing our society.”
The incident occurred while the school’s first-grade class was on a field trip at the Princeton University Art Museum. The children, teachers and parent chaperones were locked down at the museum; despite being sheltered there through their lunch hour, they garnered admiration from the Princeton community.
“Our first-graders made us so proud,” Dr. Killeen said. “Throughout their extended trip to the museum, they were phenomenal. The university staff is still singing their praises.” He also thanked the first-grade teachers and parent chaperones for “responding so well to a difficult day.”
Princeton Art Museum staff supplied snacks and lunch for the students, and Stouts/Four Seasons Transportation provided a bus to transport them safely back to school.
Msgr. Joseph N. Rosie, St. Paul pastor, voiced his appreciation for Dr. Killeen and the school staff, police and Princeton University personnel for helping to prevent the situation from becoming worse.
“The town was very responsive and kept us well-informed,” he said. “And the Princeton campus security was very helpful, and so were the museum staff – they kept the kids calm, getting them pizza and coloring books. The kids just thought it was part of their day.”
Sixth-grade students practicing for the Mime Stations of the Cross March 23 in St. Paul Church were interrupted by the lockdown announcement, and had to leave props behind at the foot of the altar to return to school. As people arrived for 12:10 p.m. Mass, Msgr. Rosie explained the disarray and spoke briefly about the unfolding situation.
“I hope and pray for everyone that this violence we seem to be experiencing more recently can be addressed more … it’s becoming far too normal,” Msgr. Rosie reflected.
Dr. Killeen told parents that the school will use the incident to inform improvements in crisis situation strategies and security measures.
“Thank you all for the faith and confidence you show in our school community as we partner together protecting and nurturing these beautiful children,” he said.
Articles and video from NJ.com and 6abc.com contributed to this report.[[In-content Ad]]