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Newtown church evacuated after unspecified threat

News Times
Updated 5:07 pm, Sunday, December 16, 2012

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NEWTOWN -- A standing room only group of parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Church in Sandy Hook was evacuated during the middle of Sunday's Noon mass because of an unspecified threat.

Deborah Metz, a Trumbull police officer on the scene, gave the all-clear after an hour in which armed police in SWAT gear searched the church and adjacent buildings.

Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said all events for the remainder of the Sunday were canceled. He said a monsignor interrupted the priest to inform him of the threat and the church was then evacuated.

Hundreds of people were sent out of the church about midway through the priest's homily.

"I don't think any of us are surprised by anything after what happened this week," Wallace told reporters outside the church.

The church will reopen Monday.

A bomb detection team searched the church and state police officials said it appeared to be safe. Officers then regrouped at their vehicles and marched to the parish religious education center, a white colonial-style house set apart from the church. Seven fully armed officers with guns drawn moved into the building in an assault formation, the first officer carrying a shield.

After about 10 minutes of searching the parish education center, the armed and armored officers left the scene, giving the all clear sign after apparently not finding anything.

Teddy bears that had been collected and were to be distributed at the end of the mass sat in a large pile in gently falling rain.

One parishioner could be overhead saying "after all we have been through, now this? This is unbelievable."

During the confused exit of hundreds of churchgoers, an elderly woman fainted and fell to the ground in the parking lot. She was being attended to by paramedics.

St. Rose of Lima Church is a Catholic parish on Church Hill Road. The church property also includes a school and is not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people were killed by a lone gunman Friday morning.

Earlier Sunday, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said there have been threats and other false information spread on social media sites. Vance said anyone caught making threats will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.