A University of New Haven student accused of bringing loaded guns to campus this week told police he had the guns to protect himself from mass shootings that had been happening, New Haven Police Officer Kealyn Nivakoff, of the New Haven Firearms Unit, said.
William Dong, 22, was arrested on Tuesday after prompting a campus lockdown and a building-by-building search, police said.
He appeared in court yesterday and police said they found newspaper clippings of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater mass shooting and 2,700 rounds of ammunition in the padlocked bedroom of his Fairfield, Conn. home.
He's a commuter student and has been suspended following the incident, according to school officials, who said the code of conduct prohibits students from having guns on campus.
Prosecutors said one of the guns in Dong's possession was a Bushmaster assault rifle, which is illegal in the state of Connecticut. The rifle was found in Dong's car parked in a lot on Campbell Avenue, police said.
He told police that he had it because he was going to the shooting range the next day, said Nivakoff, who was involved in the West Haven investigation.
Dong has been charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon, breach of peace and other counts and is being held on a $500,000 bond.
Police were first alerted after a 911 caller reported seeing a man with a long gun walking toward campus, authorities said.
“A little after one 1 p.m, West Haven police received a 911 call from a concerned citizen saying they saw a male get out of a vehicle with a long gun in the area by Campbell Avenue and Ruben Street," said West Haven Police Sgt. David Tammaro.
The caller said she saw the man fumble with something near the back of his car, then run toward Ruden Street, police said. Something was "slung" over his shoulder, but the caller couldn't tell if it was a rifle or a backpack, police said.
Dong was taken into custody about 20 minutes after the 911 call, police said, He had two loaded handguns, a 9mm Glock 26 that had 10 rounds of ammunition and one in the chamber, and a .40-caliber Glock 22 with 15 rounds and one in the chamber, police said.
One handgun was found on his person and the other was in a laptop case, according to police.
Inside Dong's blue 2010 Toyota RAV4, authorities discovered a soft rifle case folded on the passenger side floor, leaning against the seat, police said. A Bushmaster 223 assault rifle was found on the floor below the back seat.
Police removed rounds from the Bushmaster chamber and a fully loaded magazine. They also found a magazine attached to the collapsible stock, four additional 30-round magazines and three Glock magazines that carried a combined 52 rounds.
Dong admitted to driving the car and told police the Bushmaster was his and that he had left it behind when he walked toward campus, according to police.
Dong's family appeared in court Wednesday but had nothing to say to the media.
No shots were fired during the incident and no one was hurt, police said.
A student who said she was in biology class with Dong prior to the incident told NBC Connecticut he got up and left during a test and was later arrested near that same classroom building. The class began at 12:15 p.m. and the campus-wide alert went out about 30 minutes later, the student said.
It's not clear what Dong's intentions might have been, but friends have called the incident a "huge misunderstanding" and said Dong was often confused about where he was allowed to carry guns.
"It was a shock," said Thomas Wething, who went to high school with Dong and watched police search his home from across the street. "I was questioning it at first."
Dong's best friend, Manuel Pallares, said Dong carries weapons every day to protect himself while working at an armored truck company that delivers money.
"I'm pretty sure he's not going to go out and shoot people," Pallares said. "He frowns on those people. He hates hearing about gun violence."
On Tuesday evening, West Haven police launched a search of Dong's home on Stratfield Road that continued into Wednesday. There they recovered several pistol magazines and ammunition, police said.
Fairfield police said Dong has legal gun permits for two handguns, but they haven't specified whether those are the same guns recovered yesterday.
Authorities in West Haven and Fairfield are working to answer the question of why.
"We want to know what his intent was up there because we want to know whether there was an intent here," Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara said.
Dong lives with other family members, according to neighbors, who said they don't know the family personally and that there have never been any issues there.
But MacNamara said police have responded to the home before. He didn't elaborate, but said the previous incidents were not as serious. Police also said they're not looking for any additional suspects.
All afternoon and evening classes at UNH on Tuesday were canceled, according to the university. The lockdown was lifted just before 5:30 p.m.
The ShopRite on Campbell Avenue was also locked down and the manager of the nearby McDonald's reported seeing FBI searching a car and gathering fingerprints.
Forest Elementary School and Carrigan Intermediate School were given a "shelter in place" order because of the situation, but the modified lockdown was lifted after school officials consulted with police.
Notre Dame High School, which is located near the school, was locked down, then dismissed students with the help of West Haven Police.
Students are being dismissed in an orderly fashion now with the help and security of WH Police. Thanks again to all for thoughts/prayers.
— Notre Dame HSWH (@notredamewh) December 3, 2013
UPDATE: Suspect is in custody, CONTINUE TO SHELTER IN PLACE until further instructions.
— U. of New Haven (@UNH) December 3, 2013
This situation came about a week after a lockdown and massive police presence at Yale University, located just miles away.
In that case, police received a call from someone who reported that his roommate was on his way to the Ivy League school to shoot people. Part of the campus remained on lockdown for about seven hours and no threat was found.
Last month, Central Connecticut State University in New Britain was locked down after a man in a Halloween costume sparked a massive police presence.