MERIDEN — Authorities are investigating after a pressure cooker was found outside Israel Putnam Elementary School Thursday morning. The pressure cooker, which officials say did not contain explosives, was safely detonated by state police and there were no reported injuries.
Police responded to the school at 133 Parker Ave. about 7:45 a.m. An officer found the package, later determined to be a pressure cooker, at the intersection of Parker Avenue and Markham Place, about 200 feet from the school.
A shelter-in-place order was issued for about an hour and a half and was lifted about 10:50 a.m. The pressure cooker, which was initially perceived to be a threat, was destroyed in a contained explosion by the state police bomb squad about 10:20 a.m.
“Safety has and always will be at the forefront of our minds,” said police Sgt. Christopher Fry.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni said school resource officer Ken Egan arrived at the scene at 8:13 a.m. and school officials learned of the incident about 8:20 a.m.
With buses en route and because some students were walking to school, city police, state police, and an FBI agent opted to have students alternatively enter the school through Charles Street. School started at 8:45 a.m. and Benigni said he was pleased with the response.
“Everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to work,” Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said. “The kids were never in danger.”
Cossette said the state police bomb squad removed the lid and then destroyed the pressure cooker. Benigni said he was informed there were no explosives found.
State police first attempted to x-ray the pressure cooker, but found the x-ray was inconclusive due to the way the container was positioned against the curb, Benigni said.
Benigni said parents were not permitted to pick up their children while authorities were preparing to detonate the pressure cooker.
Area residents were also asked to shelter in place, Fry said. Markham Place, Charles Street and a section of Parker Avenue were closed during the incident.
Adrien Johnson, a fifth-grade student at the school, said he was on the bus when his mother called him to say there was a bomb threat. Johnson alerted the bus driver of the incident.
“I was freaking out, I’m still freaking out,” Johnson said.
Anita Pineau was at the school Thursday morning to pick up her grandson, a first-grade student at Israel Putnam. Pineau said she learned about the incident on social media.
“It’s surreal to see,” Pineau said while waiting for her daughter to walk back from the school with her grandson. “You see it on TV all the time but don’t expect it to happen.”
A group of parents voiced their concerns to Fry, saying they didn’t receive notifications soon enough or not at all. Parents are required to sign up to receive calls from the school.
Some parents questioned why the school buses were not diverted. Fry assured the parents that the children’s safety was the first priority.
Sgt. John Mennone said the pressure cooker may have been accidentally discarded. Cossette said authorities will speak to the initial caller during the investigation.
Peter Massey, a University of New Haven forensic science professor and former Hamden police detective, said detonating a package would have "little effect on collection of evidence.” He said police can take pictures prior to and reassemble the package after detonation.
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