Police: ‘Suspicious individual’ scare at BKW was misunderstanding

HILLTOWNS — After a Berne-Knox-Westerlo student reported to a bus driver that she saw a man with a weapon as kids were loading into buses Friday afternoon, the Albany County Sheriff’s department tracked down the man and learned that he was a “neighbor and he was carrying a cell phone,” not a weapon, Inspector J.T. Campbell said this week. 

Around 3:24 p.m. the same day, BKW sent out a message to subscribers of its emergency notification system to let them know that there had been a report of a “suspicious individual,” that the school issued a lockout in response, and that the situation was quickly resolved.

Before that notification was sent out, however, the “Happenings in the town of Berne NY” Facebook page posted, “B-K-W School is on LOCKDOWN ! COPS SWARM AREA,” and later attached to the post, “Update: All is well.”

The post prompted concern and confusion from the public, and, after more details emerged, some outrage. 

“Well…...that was a bit dramatic. Posts like this create mass panic, not provide information,” user Lisa Marie Kellie-Joslin commented on the post.

“I’m not sure who’s in charge of this post but it’s typically drama,” commented user Heidi Byrne. 

The post’s reference to a “lockdown” was erroneous, as the school hadn’t initiated a lockdown but a lockout.

Superintendent Timothy Mundell could not be reached for comment.

According to the district’s safety plan, a lockout is “used to secure school buildings and grounds during incidents that pose an imminent threat outside of the school.”

A lockdown occurs when there are “incidents that pose an immediate threat of violence in or around the school.”

In total, 55 users commented on the post, a number far higher than the handful that typically engage with its content, which ranges from news blurbs to satirical takes on cultural events and local interests. Seventeen people shared the post on their walls, which are visible to all their friends on the site.

William Keal, who described himself as one of the administrators of the page, “would not disclose” any information regarding the post when reached by phone Tuesday.

The cacophony highlights the positives of a world where information can spread rapidly through social media — the post was created at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, a few hours before official word came out — but also exposed the vulnerability of information that is not properly vetted. 

Most commenters on the Facebook post seemed happy that the situation was not as dangerous as it could have been.

“The student did the right thing by alerting someone to what she saw,” Inspector Campbell said Tuesday.

More Hilltowns News

  • The Helderberg Ambulance Squad has enlisted volunteers and is asking for more to help sew gowns to be worn by squad members as they work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The gowns will be waterproof and washable, meaning they can be reused. “ ... We didn’t ever wear gowns that often so we didn’t have enough [when the virus hit],” Mildred Zuk, an emergency medical technician, told The Enterprise. 

  • After her husband’s suicide last year, Berne resident Jennifer Williams’s life has transformed as she signals optimism and strength for her two young children while pregnant with a third. She hopes her story will inspire others to remain strong in the face of devastating adversity. 

  • Peter Hotaling, Westerlo’s former assessor, withdrew the Article 78 proceding he had filed against the town after it unceremoniously allowed other candidates to apply for the position. Hotaling had been in the position for 19 years, and now works as Rensselaerville’s sole assessor.

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