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Police: School gunman upset over GI treatment

Police say a carpenter who brought a shotgun to an upstate New York middle school and held a principal hostage for more than two hours was upset by the treatment of U.S. soldiers.
Image: Suspect in custody
Police lead a suspect away outside Stissing Mountain Middle School in Pine Plains, N.Y., on Tuesday.NBC News
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police say a carpenter who brought a shotgun to an upstate New York middle school and held a principal hostage for more than two hours was upset by the treatment of U.S. soldiers.

The court complaint against Christopher Craft Sr. says he threatened to use deadly force to try to get school officials and police to contact the media with his message concerning "the wrongful treatment" of military personnel.

Several people who gathered at Stissing Mountain Middle School, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of New York City, say Craft's elder son had enlisted in the Army. That information could not immediately be confirmed Tuesday evening.

Craft, 42, sneaked a disassembled shotgun into the school, put it together in a bathroom then confronted Principal Robert Hess in the main office.

He was later arraigned on a first-degree kidnapping charge. Dutchess County Sheriff Adrian Anderson said he will also face charges of criminal possession of a weapon and criminal trespassing.

Craft was dressed in a black T-shirt with an image of a pirate ship on the back, black jeans and sneakers at his arraignment before Pine Plains Town Justice Louis Imperato.

He responded with terse 'Yes, sirs' except when the judge ordered him to jail without bail.

"Jail is not the place I need to be," Craft said. He told Imperato he should be in a psychiatric facility getting treatment for depression. The judge didn't respond to that request.

No plea
Craft didn't enter a plea at his arraignment. A public defender will be assigned before his next court appearance Dec. 2.

Craft walked into the main office at Stissing Mountain Middle School and held Principal Bob Hess hostage while students and staff were locked down in other parts of the building, Anderson said. No one was injured.

Craft, who went to school in the district, didn't specifically threaten anyone at the school, Anderson said. Police would not discuss a possible motive. Craft has two sons who had attended the school, but school officials said neither was currently enrolled.

Seventh-grader Zach Pruner said he was in the counselor's office in the next room when the man walked in and began arguing with administrators. He began cursing and talked about being frustrated and confused, Zach said.

'Frozen with fear'
"I could hear him in the next room," he said. "I was frozen with fear."

Zach said he hid under a desk for the next two hours. He jumped out a window after getting the attention of the SWAT team by waving his arm, and he held up a sign that said, "One guy with gun and four people inside," he said.

When Zach's mother, Susan Treacy, was asked Tuesday if she had learned something about her son, she said: "Yeah, he's better at this than he is at schoolwork."

Suzanne Mata said her 17-year-old daughter was in the cafeteria when school workers started getting text messages telling them to get the students into the kitchen.

Classes began around 7:30 a.m. and Craft walked in a few minutes later, checking in with a receptionist as required, according to Pine Plains Schools Superintendent Linda Kaumeyer. He asked to use the bathroom, where he put the shotgun back together, loaded it with one round and headed into the main office, police said.

Students evacuated
Police went room to room after Craft surrendered, evacuating about 700 students from the combined middle and high schools as they went. The students were taken to a bus garage, then returned to school by mid-afternoon. They were allowed to go home around 2:20 p.m., right around the time the school day normally ends. Some were met by parents; others walked down the main street away from school.

Hess was the psychologist at the school before becoming principal, said Gregg Pulver, superintendent of Pine Plains, a town about 90 miles north of New York City.

"He has a great way of handling people, thank God," he said.

The school was schedule to be closed Wednesday to observe Veterans Day, but Kaumeyer said she would consider opening it to provide counseling.

Lockdown at start of school
The school was on lockdown just after school began Tuesday with Craft and Hess contained in one room. Students and other faculty members were locked in other rooms.

After Craft surrendered, armed officers could be seen standing guard at the front door of the school. Craft was handcuffed and led to an ambulance, where he was checked by paramedics.

Parents were told to gather in a parking lot at a restaurant a couple of blocks from school. Hundreds of people, including parents and other townspeople, were milling around an intersection near the school, which sits in a rural valley amid rolling hills.

Lisa Pusello, whose son is a sixth grader at the school, said she heard about the incident by phone from a girlfriend.

"I'm thinking the whole time, 'How can this happen in our little town?'" she said as she waited to pick up her son.

One-stoplight town
Pine Plains has about 2,400 residents, many of whom commute to jobs in nearby Poughkeepsie and New York City. The school district is the one-stoplight town's single largest employer and the school's graduating class averages about 90 students a year, Pulver said.

Pulver said he was at the local diner — "where you always get the news in Pine Plains," he said — when he heard about the problem at the school.

Police said Craft had a prior misdemeanor conviction, but they would not release details. He was also the victim of a shooting in December 2000, when he was shot in the shoulder during a dispute over stolen property.