Upset by the treatment of U.S. military personnel, a 42-year-old father of an Army veteran sneaked a disassembled shotgun into a middle school just after classes began Tuesday, put it together in a bathroom, then held the principal hostage for more than two hours before surrendering without firing a shot, police said.
At 7:45 a.m., minutes after the bell signaled a start to the school day at Stissing Mountain Middle School, Christopher Craft Sr. loaded a single round into the shotgun, walked into the main office and confronted Principal Robert Hess, police said. Students were herded into the cafeteria's kitchen or huddled under desks.
Craft ordered Hess at gunpoint into an inner office where he restrained him and threatened to kill him to try to compel school officials and police to talk to media about his message "concerning the wrongful treatment of United States Military personnel," court documents said.
Students and staff were locked in other rooms, part of the school's safety procedures.
Craft surrendered peacefully at 9:52 a.m. and was taken from the school in handcuffs. Officials said they negotiated constantly with Craft but did not say what finally persuaded him to surrender.
Police then began going room to room to clear out about 700 students from the combined middle and high schools, who were taken to the district bus garage to assemble. They returned to the school and were dismissed shortly after 2 p.m., about the time they are normally released.
No one was injured.
Craft, wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt with an image of a pirate ship on the back at his arraignment, told a judge he was depressed and needed psychiatric care.
"Jail is not the place I need to be," Craft told Pine Plains Town Justice Louis Imperato. The judge didn't respond to his request for psychiatric care.
Craft has two sons who had attended the school, but school officials said neither was currently enrolled.
Craft's elder son, also named Christopher, was a motor transportation operator in the Army from December 2006 through June 2009, the Department of Defense confirmed Tuesday evening.
Craft, who went to school in the district, was charged with first-degree kidnapping and also faces charges of criminal possession of a weapon and criminal trespassing.
Craft didn't enter a plea at his arraignment. A public defender will be assigned before his next court appearance Dec. 2.
One student, seventh-grader Zach Pruner, said he was in the counselor's office in the next room when Craft walked in and began arguing with administrators. He began cursing and talked about being frustrated and confused, Zach said.
"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."
Police and school officials didn't single out any student's actions, saying they followed the proper procedures during the standoff.
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.
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 to be closed Wednesday to observe Veterans Day, but Kaumeyer said she would consider opening it to provide counseling.
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.
Pine Plains has about 2,400 residents. The school district is the one-stoplight town's largest employer, Pulver said.
Police said Craft had a prior misdemeanor conviction, but they would not release details. He was also shot in the shoulder in 2000 during a dispute over stolen property.