Conn. students warned to stay in after shooting - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Conn. students warned to stay in after shooting

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Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2009 5:30 pm | Updated: 1:07 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. - Wesleyan University students were told to stay in their dorms and the city's only synagogue closed Thursday as police warned that the man wanted in the shooting death of a woman at a bookstore may be bent on killing other students and Jews.

Apparently applying the lessons of Virginia Tech, police and administrators locked down the 3,000-student campus and stepped up patrols as authorities hunted for the killer.

Johanna Justin-Jinich, a 21-year-old student, was shot several times Wednesday inside a bookstore cafe just off campus by a gunman wearing a wig. Two years ago, she complained to police in New York that the suspect, 29-year-old Stephen P. Morgan, had stalked and threatened her.

University officials said police told them the suspect expressed threats in his personal journals toward Wesleyan and its Jewish students.

An official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that police confiscated Morgan's car and found a journal in which he spelled out a plan to rape and kill Justin-Jinich before going on a campus shooting spree.

The official, who could not speak publicly because the investigation is ongoing, also said police stopped Morgan shortly after the shooting, spoke to him and let him go, only to later learn from Justin-Jinich's family that they suspected him.

Police would not comment Thursday.

"Investigators have been in contact with Wesleyan University and leaders of the Jewish community, urging both to be extra vigilant," Middletown Police Chief Lynn Baldoni said.

Justin-Jinich, of Timnath, Colo., came from a Jewish family, and her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.

Morgan's brother told the AP that Morgan wasn't anti-Semitic. His family issued a statement pleading with Morgan to turn himself in "to avoid any further bloodshed."

Wesleyan officials told students to stay indoors and staff members to stay home. Most buildings on campus, including cafeterias and the library, were locked. Normally bustling sidewalks were empty, and police cruisers patrolled the campus of the elite liberal arts school.

In dorms, students in flip-flops, gym shorts and pajama pants shuffled downstairs to pick up box lunches.

"We're supposed to do some work, but really I just keep checking my e-mail and checking on friends and letting people from home know that I'm OK," said freshman Christina Yow of China. "Anything to distract."

Brenna Galvin, a sophomore from Amherst, N.H., said her family was considering bringing her home. "It's hard to know what to do," she said. "Really, we're just trying to keep in touch with people at home."

The university's Usdan Center was opened briefly Thursday night so students could have dinner, but they were asked to return to their dormitories by nightfall. School officials planned to return to a normal schedule Friday.

Middletown's only synagogue, Congregation Adath Israel, across the street from the bookstore, was closed Thursday and congregants were considering canceling Sabbath services Friday night and Saturday.

"It was a no-brainer to close the building until we knew more information," synagogue president Eliot Meadow said.

On Thursday afternoon, police got an arrest warrant charging Morgan with murder. Police are conducting a nationwide manhunt for Morgan, who has ties to New York, Massachusetts and Colorado.

The shooting stirred memories of the Virginia Tech shootings, in which a deranged student killed 32 people and himself. A panel that investigated the 2007 massacre said university officials erred by not acting more quickly to warn students. Police had mistakenly concluded that the first two victims were shot as a result of a boyfriend-girlfriend dispute.

Sebastian Giuliano, mayor of Middletown, a city of 48,000, immediately thought of that tragedy as he saw five police cars race by Wednesday. "Don't tell me it's another Virginia Tech situation," he said.

The shooting occurred early Wednesday afternoon as several hundred students gathered for a concert held annually to allow students to blow off steam before finals. Police and university administrators moved everyone indoors and canceled the concert.

Police gave the all-clear late Wednesday afternoon and said there was no danger, but did an about-face two hours later, warning students to take immediate shelter.

Police said evidence uncovered at the scene prompted the renewed warnings, but they offered no details. Later Wednesday, they released a surveillance photo of the gunman and said they were looking for Morgan, a former Navy man who university authorities said had no connection to Wesleyan.

"Everything we did was based on information we received from Middletown police," Wesleyan spokesman David Pesci said.

There was more confusion when the university posted a photograph purportedly of Morgan on its Web site, only to use a photo of another man. It was replaced Thursday afternoon by two images supplied by police.

The last day of classes for the year was Tuesday. Final exams are scheduled to begin on Monday.

Morgan and Justin-Jinich had known each other at least since 2007. Police records show she filed a harassment complaint against Morgan when they were enrolled in the same six-week program at New York University. In a complaint filed in July 2007, Justin-Jinich said Morgan called her repeatedly and sent her insulting e-mails.

One of the e-mails warned: "You're going to have a lot more problems down the road if you can't take any (expletive) criticism, Johanna."

Both were interviewed by university police, but Justin-Jinich decided not to press charges.

Morgan's brother Greg said family members had tried to contact Stephen but did not know where he was.

In a statement read to reporters outside his parents' Marblehead, Mass., home, the Morgans said they were "shocked and sickened by the tragedy" and extended their condolences to the victim's family.

They added: "Steve, turn yourself in right now to any law enforcement agency wherever you are to avoid any further bloodshed. We love you. We will support you in every way and we don't want anyone else to get hurt."

Penny Wigglesworth, who lives in the same upper-middle-class neighborhood, called them a "model family" and described Morgan as pleasant and polite.

Justin-Jinich would have graduated next year from Wesleyan. She was a 2006 graduate of the Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school outside Philadelphia.

"It's just a tragic irony that her grandmother would survive the Holocaust and she would be gunned down in a bookstore," said Eric Mayer, a religion teacher at Westtown School who was her academic adviser.

Wesleyan officials said a memorial vigil for Justin-Jinich would be held Friday afternoon in a campus courtyard.

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