Cop: 2001 murderer planned GHS attack
Enterprise file photo
Back in the news: Andrew Hernandez, shown here in 2001 being escorted to Guilderland Town Court on charges he murdered his mother, was then a Guilderland High school senior. The school’s current resource officer, Nick Ingle, told the school board last week in a televised presentation on school safety that Hernandez was within hours of carrying out a planned attack on the high school. Until last week, there was no public mention of such an attack. “It is real. It could happen here,” said Ingle.
GUILDERLAND — A murder from more than a decade ago formed the centerpiece of a Nov. 6 presentation on school safety here, a week before residents go to the polls to vote on an $18 million bond issue for building upgrades, including improved safety measures.
“Most of you don’t know,” Nick Ingle, the Guilderland Police officer stationed at the high school, told the board, stating that a senior, Andrew Hernandez, was “going to attack the school.”
Ingle’s statements were the first public mention of a school attack planned by Hernandez.
Ingle described Hernandez as “a loner but bright” who was “having family problems.” His parents were separated. Hernandez “loved Dad…didn’t like Mom,” said Ingle.
Ingle also said Hernandez had “written out a plan” and was going to take guns, wrapped in an American flag, into school, where he would take a girl hostage, using her “as a human shield” before going to the rooftop where he would “shoot first responders.”
Ingle said, “He decided to test himself” by first shooting his mother.
“He said, if he could kill his own mother, he could kill people he didn’t care about,” said Ingle, concluding, “It is real. It could happen here.”
While the 2001 murder of Janice Hernandez, 43, was widely covered, police, until now, had made no public mention of any plans Andrew Hernandez, then 18, had of attacking the school.
School officials at the time, including the Guilderland High School principal and school superintendent, expressed sympathy for the Hernandez family and appeared unaware of any plans to attack the school. Neither did the school board publicly discuss any plans of school attack.
“We want to assure parents it was a domestic issue, unrelated to school,” the principal at the time, John Whipple, told The Enterprise the week of the murder. “We feel compassion towards the family.”
The superintendent at the time, Gregory Aidala, said, “We want to assure parents our school environment is safe. This is not related to any issue he is having at school but a problem we believe he is having at home. We extend our deepest sympathy to the Hernandez family.”
Asked the role, if any, of the school in a case like this, Aidala said at the time, “There’s always a constant reminder that, as teachers, and administrators, we reach out to students…We provide an environment that can make them willing to share if they have a problem. Unfortunately now, it’s after the fact. But our schools have counselors, psychologists, social workers and teachers — we are always willing to lend a helping hand.”
This week, Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor said she was “familiar with the case” as she was on the force at the time but wasn’t “hands on” so did not know any details about whether or why information was kept from the public.
She speculated about Hernandez’s plan, detailed by Ingle, “It may be they didn’t really believe him.”
The chief at the time, James Murley, did not return calls seeking comment.
Asked how she would handle it if a similar situation were to occur today, Lawlor said, “My belief is to release anything to keep people safe…I would release anything I thought would keep students safe and parents aware.”
Captain Curtis Cox with the Guilderland Police looked at records and talked to staff to answer questions from The Enterprise about how the matter was handled. As far as he could discover, Cox said, Hernandez had no “written plan” to attack the school but had made “off-the-cuff” comments, not part of his sworn statement, after his arraignment and after he was “safely behind bars.”
Cox noted that sometimes police do not release information if doing so would interfere with the successful prosecution of a case. Sergeant Roger Ginder, he said, did tell the school superintendent at the time about the off-the-cuff remarks.
Ginder said yesterday he had, indeed, informed Aidala about Hernandez’s comments. “I don’t recall the exact timeline,” he said. “It was after the arraignment. The statements weren’t part of the case. Any comments were spontaneous utterances, not admissible…There were no co-conspirators. There was no danger.”
Finally, Cox posed this question about the withheld information, stressing that it was a question: “Could it have been in the interest of not creating panic or alarm?”
Barbara Fraterrigo, the current school board president and the only board member who was serving at the time of the Hernandez murder, said she was surprised during Ingle’s presentation last week to learn that Hernandez had a plan to attack the school.
“We never were told,” she said of the school board.
She went on, “For years, right after Columbine, we had a Safe and Drug Free Schools Committee and it was never shared there.”
Fraterrigo said that, while she could understand the need for police to not reveal certain things during an investigation, “Once it’s adjudicated, it should be shared.”
The crime Hernandez did commit
On Oct. 15, 2001, Hernandez turned himself in to the police department at Guilderland Town Hall at 11 p.m. and reported he had committed a crime at the home he shared with his mother, The Enterprise reported at the time. Officers went to the home at 6004 Gardenview Drive and found the body of Janice Hernandez in a walk-in closet off of the master bedroom, a place she used as a work station with a computer in it, police said; she had been shot once in the back of the head.
A .22-caliber rifle was lying on a couch in the living room, resting on an American flag, police said; there was a second round still in the rifle.
Hernandez’s father, Jose, was separated from his mother and living in Ohio; his only sibling, a sister, was away at college.
Andrew Hernandez’s high school guidance counselor at the time, Amy Arena, who had worked with Hernandez since he was in the ninth grade and also worked with his sister and mother, said he had been devastated when he was stymied in reaching his lifelong goal of joining the Marines. His 18th birthday had been on Oct. 5 around which time he had tried to enlist, she said.
“He wanted more than anything to go into the Marines,” Arena told The Enterprise the week of his mother’s murder. “He had a severe hearing loss. He found out several weeks ago, because of that, he couldn’t enlist. It was devastating for him. It had been his lifelong goal.”
A Marine recruiter, Staff Sgt. Matthew Sewell, told The Enterprise at the time that Hernandez had been disqualified on Sept. 28, 2001 for “physical limitations.” He said Hernandez had already passed other hurdles, but failed the physical exam.
Hernandez wasn’t involved in any school activities, Arena said in 2001. She referred to a form that students fill out in their junior year. “It’s totally blank,” she said of Hernandez’s form. Where students were to fill in such activities as clubs or sports or volunteer work, “He put none, none, none,” said Arena. “It’s typical of a lot of kids,” she said. “They don’t feel part of the school.”
An activity Hernandez excelled at was marksmanship. He came in fourth, using an air gun, in the 2001 United States Field Target National Competition.
Asked about Hernandez’s friends at school, Arena said, “I don’t think he ate lunch with anyone.”
But, she said, he was closer to teachers. “He got along better with adults,” she said.
Asked about Hernandez’s relationship with his mother, Arena said, “He’s so respectful. I have kids who come in here and pummel their parents and treat them like dirt. He was very respectful of her.”
Arena said the day after the murder, “I don’t see him as a monster. I feel he’s a lonely person.” She also said, “I really want to talk to him now. I feel he’s alone….”
The high school principal at the time said Hernandez was a solid B student but had abilities that went beyond his grades.
He started attending Guilderland schools in 1993 as a fourth-grader at Westmere Elementary, Whipple said at the time, went to all three years at Farnsworth Middle School, and ninth grade at the high school before his family moved to Texas; he then spent part of 10th grade at a military school in Texas and part at a public school in Ohio before moving back to Guilderland for his junior and senior years.
“He comes from a military family,” said Whipple the week of the murder, “and he planned to join the Marines.”
Asked if Hernandez had been a troublemaker at school, Whipple said, “Not at all. He had no discipline record. He was a quiet person.”
Two weeks before the murder, as part of a school assignment for a criminal justice class, Hernandez had ridden with two different Guilderland Police officers, the chief at the time, James Murley, said. “There was no indication whatsoever that this young man was any different than any of the other students from that course,” Murley said just after the murder.
The week after the murder, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and his lawyer, Terence Kindlon, told The Enterprise Hernandez’s defense may assert he was “not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.”
In July 2002, Hernandez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and then a year and three days after the murder, he was sentenced to 19-and-a-half years to life.
Kindlon told the judge at the sentencing that Hernandez had suffered from severe depression and had tried to kill himself four times. Hernandez remained quiet at his sentencing, waiving his right to speak.
Superintendent Marie Wiles began last week’s presentation on school safety by saying that board members had met in September with the Guilderland Police to talk about using a police dog to do drug and weapon sweeps but decided to expand the presentation to cover “all the things we do to protect” students, faculty, and staff. “A safe learning environment,” said Wiles, is “at the center” of day-to-day life in the schools.
In 2011, Guilderland students were surveyed in six categories — safety, bullying, respect, self-regulating behaviors or a student’s ability to persevere, connectedness, and appreciation of diversity. Students, for example, were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how safe they felt at school. The results hovered around 3, in the center, with elementary students feeling a bit more safe and high school students a bit less. The same was true of results in the other categories.
The 2011 survey also showed that 32 percent of Guilderland students in third, fourth, and fifth grades were bullied in school at least once, and 48 percent of students witnessed bullying. Six percent admitted to bullying others.
Reflecting national trends, the numbers climbed with the grades, peaking in middle school. At Farnsworth Middle School, students reported that 39 percent were bullied in school or on the way to school, 72 percent witnessed bullying, and 16 percent bullied others.
At Guilderland High School, students reported that 33 percent were bullied in school or on the way to school, 68 percent witnessed bullying, and 18 percent bullied others.
The survey results “certainly heightened our awareness,” Demian Singleton, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, told the school board when the results were presented in 2011. Without the survey, he said, “Our awareness would have been contained by our ignorance.”
The survey results, he said then, warrant deep understanding of root causes, and ambitious efforts for improvement.
“We take a holistic approach to educating our children,” said Lisa Patierne, an assistant principal at the high school, who, with Ingle, presented the televised report on safety to the school board last week.
“We really are on the forefront of school safety,” said Patierne, mentioning many conferences she and Ingle have attended.
She listed some of the “partnering” the district has done in such areas as bullying prevention, training girls to defend themselves against rape, showing soon-to-be college students how to prevent dorm-room fires, and building community with such activities as posting “nice notes” on bathroom mirrors.
Ingle talked about activities where the police relate to students, such as puppet shows at the elementary schools or dances at the middle school. “We get involved with children. We build that bond,” he said.
Ingle also spoke about the necessity of drills. “We learn from drills,” he said. “We expose holes in our security safety net so we can find the hole and mend it.”
The Guilderland schools now have plans for evacuating in case of an emergency and for then reuniting students with their parents.
As school shootings have increased, Patierne said, the federal government has “sounded the alarm” and is paying for training for school administrators like herself. For instance, she said all expenses were paid by Homeland Security for a summer training session in New Mexico.
Safety procedures include such techniques as SPOT, which stands for Screening Persons by Observational Techniques, and is being taught to Guilderland hall monitors.
“We are the shepherds that overlook the flock,” said Ingle.
He went on to profile an “active shooter” as someone who is not motivated to take hostages, not willing to negotiate, “there to kill,” and is a male between the ages of 18 and 40.
Ingle went on to quote al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as saying, “If you want to hurt America, hurt their children.”
He mentioned the destruction wrought by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 — “Bravo to them” — as a call to be better prepared. Ingle went over the “four Ds”: deter, detect, defend, defeat — when faced with an active shooter.
“We have to balance our opposing priorities,” said Patierne of keeping the schools safe and also having them be “warm, friendly, inviting places.”
She went over such measures as adopting a strong but caring stance against “the code of silence.” She also emphasized the importance of listening, and gave the example she had shared with Guilderland staff of Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at a Georgia elementary school, who talked a young man wielding a high-powered rifle out of using it.
“My secretary is trying to find a home for a homeless student,” said Patierne, giving an example of caring that goes on in the schools, from fund-raisers for a sick family to buying groceries for the needy.
Picking up on Ingle’s metaphor, Patierne said, “We are on the forefront…doing the best we can to protect our cubs.”
Other safety measures highlighted by the pair include numbering school buildings for easy access, off-site video monitoring at the police department in case of an emergency, preparedness drills, installing locksets that let teachers lock doors from the inside, educating nurses on triage, a campaign to educate everyone “if you see something, say something,” and increasing police presence around the district.
In tough economic times, a school resource officer can’t be placed in every building, Patierne said, but she has invited on-duty police officers to, for example, “have lunch with kids” or randomly sit in school parking lots to “be a deterrent.”
Finally, the school board was introduced to “Rocky,” the German shepherd handled by Donald Jones. Patierne said the dog will “send a deterrent message we will not tolerate drugs or weapons on our campus.”
“He is my partner. He is trained in narcotics detection,” said Jones, adding, “He does love to be petted.”
Several board members made reference to an Oct. 31 Enterprise editorial that argued using a police dog to detect drugs in student lockers could undermine the trust essential to learning.
“This is helping the kids to feel safe,” responded Patierne of using the police dog. “The message we are sending…[is] we are going to deter as much as we possibly can.”
Patierne said she had read the editorial, which referenced the district’s response to the 1999 killings at Columbine High School when Guilderland, unlike many schools that reacted by adding metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed officers, instead stressed the need for “the development of a caring community.”
“I believe that’s true,” Patierne said of Guilderland’s approach after the Columbine shootings. But, she went on, “We’re living in different times now….We are concerned about their safety.”