Scare on the Hudson: Security Incident Disrupts Concert
The second half of the noon Harmony on the Hudson show was meant to be one of celebration. It was Director of Bands Art Himmelberger’s last performance. He paused the concert to recognize the first member of the Marist College band in the audience, gifting him with a t-shirt and baton. The two were about to co-conduct the next piece, when a commotion from the audience arose.
A Marist College alumnus was arrested at the year-end Music Department performance at the Culinary Institute of America on Sun., May 5 for making what authorities labeled as a terroristic threat.
Kelvin Asiedu, a 25-year-old 2018 Marist graduate, entered the Ecolab Auditorium located in the Marriot Pavilion during the latter half of the band concert and seated himself at the front of the venue, carrying a backpack. While Himmelberger was addressing the crowd, the perpetrator rose and proceeded to the front of the stage, leaving the backpack behind while he exited his seat. An audience member abruptly stood and began shouting questions at Asiedu as he remained positioned with his hands behind his back. This caused those in the venue to quickly evacuate.
“We take these incidents very seriously,” stated Hyde Park Police Chief Robert Benson. “I want to thank members of the audience for noticing something was suspicious with the actions taken by [Asiedu]. Whenever anyone is in a public setting we need to be aware of our surroundings and report any suspicious activity.”
According to a press release issued by the Town of Hyde Park Police Department, patrols interviewed the agitator, to which he “made statements indicating [his] actions were intended to cause alarm.” He was then taken into custody and transported to the Dutchess County Jail that night, as stated by Lieutenant Paul Caccia.
According to Caccia, he was accompanied by two additional individuals at the event, who were questioned by police and later released.
Asiedu was charged with a felony terroristic charge, criminal nuisance, and disorderly conduct. He was released Mon. morning on $1,000 bail and, as stated by Caccia, was ordered to appear in court on Wed.
Authorities additionally stated that, after searching the backpack, it was found to only contain paper to make it appear as though there were contents inside. No one was seriously injured.
“I Felt Doomed”
Numerous performers and audience members initially thought the exchange between the suspect and the audience member was a planned skit.
“Once it escalated, I didn't really know what to think,” said trumpet player Philip Monteiro. “Honestly I felt more appalled that this was happening in the middle of our concert than fearing for my life.”
In attempting to escape the stage, band members scrambled to find the nearest exits, crushing some of their instruments as they stampeded to safety. Percussionist and singer Olivia Haskell described the mood as one of “complete panic and chaos.”
“I thought an explosion or bullets were coming at any second,” said Haskell, who was positioned in the far back corner for the performance. “When I turned around, there were so many people and obstacles in between me and the real exit. I felt doomed.”
According to Haskell, the musicians rushed the back of the stage to escape, unaware of a wall that prevented them from getting out. She added that music stands and chairs pushed over from the commotion created further blockage.
The Marist Singers were also positioned in the upstairs balcony, waiting to accompany the band in two songs as a goodbye salute to Himmelberger. Most of the performers were still clutching their music folders as they sprinted from the balcony to a parking lot outside.
“I was sure that the man was shooting at the crowd,” stated singer Gigi Figueroa as she recounted her initial reactions to the clamor coming from the stage while evacuating.
Once outside, the Singers hugged one another, comforting those in tears. Others passed their cell phones around to those without one so they could contact their families at home or in the audience.
Figueroa recalled holding the trembling hands of two of her fellow sopranos as they moved in disbelief through the screaming, panicked crowd of audience members.
“We were all in shock,” she said. “We were all hugging each other a little tighter.”
According to Haskell, numerous students rose to the occasion to organize and account for all of the performers.
She said, “I'm really grateful and humbled by our band officers and general members who lingered inside to make sure everyone got out safe instead of fleeing with the crowd.”
The morning following the scare, Vice President of Student Affairs Deborah DiCaprio issued an email to the rest of the Marist community. The message described the situation as “an evacuation, but the incident appears to have been a hoax.”
DiCaprio further explained that the college is making “additional resources available to any students who need them,” adding that Counseling Services and other forms of aid will be offered.
“As always, Marist takes the safety and well-being of students and the College community very seriously,” DiCaprio wrote.
Several Music students were disturbed by the administration’s response to the situation.
“I’m concerned about the administration's cookie cutter response leading with ‘it was just a hoax backpack’ and not ‘at the time, our students and faculty feared for their lives,’” said Haskell.
The performers also expressed their distaste towards the campus’ reactions during a meeting with Dutchess County Mental Health and Counseling Services, among other on-campus resources, Mon. evening.
One student stated to the group that he received a “berating” and “accusatory” reply from a professor when he requested an extension on the deadline for his term paper.
Singer Tenley Feinberg shared a similar sentiment during the gathering. “I’ve had to explain this incident to multiple people today and explain why some of my fellow students weren’t in class. Why am I having to explain that?”
The students were then instructed by a member of Counseling Services to direct these faculty members to their office.
Several students have additionally taken to social media to express their concerns.
In a tweet, band and Singers member Amanda Harrigan posted the following: “Music teachers and school administrators: please perform active shooter and bomb drills in concert settings. This is something that I did not want to have to learn firsthand.”
She followed up, “Not once in over 10 years of band and choir have I been informed of emergency protocol for stage performances. This needs to change NOW.”
The 2017 Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools report stated that 95% of public schools reported drilling students on lockdown procedures, with an additional 92% stating they rehearsed evacuation techniques. These high percentages, along with daily mass shooting occurrences nationwide, illustrates why the young performers were put on edge in this circumstance.
College President David Yellen submitted a follow up email to the campus regarding more details about the circumstance Tues. afternoon.
“It is shocking that anyone, let alone someone with ties to Marist, would intentionally inflict such stress and trauma on those peacefully enjoying a concert,” he wrote.
In the email, Yellen requested faculty to be more sensitive towards students who were impacted.
“In difficult situations like this, it is especially important to stand together as a campus community,” said Yellen.
Furthermore, Yellen followed up with another email solely to members of the Music program Wed. afternoon, writing, “I assure you that it was never our intent to downplay or otherwise characterize the nature or impact of the event in that message. But I am certainly sorry that our communication led any of you to feel that way.”
“To those who weren't there, this may seem like a minor incident,” said Monteiro. “But many of us who were in the midst of it genuinely feared for our safety. I hope that students and administration can have a constructive dialogue about how to respond to this incident and how to prevent them going forward.”
“We Have No Fear for Our Red Foxes…”
Once the venue was secured, everyone was brought back into the auditorium to receive an update from Himmelberger and a member of law enforcement.
When invited onstage to add a few sentiments, President Emeritus Dennis Murray said, “A group of people are always at their best when there’s pressure and even potential danger. The way everyone handled themselves, I have to tell you, as president here for 37 years I was really proud of all of you.”
Following this update, Himmelberger was candidly presented with the Distinguished Service to Music Medal, the highest honor in the National Honorary Band Fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi.
Seniors were then asked to stand and be recognized for their dedication to the music program from their spots in the auditorium as their names were read to the remaining audience.
The event concluded with the Marist First Song Himmelberger wrote at the beginning of his Marist career. Some percussionists sounded off their drums as Singers, band members, faculty, and the audience energetically chanted the tune.
“But in everything about today, always remember the power and strength of music,” wrote Harrigan via Twitter. “Singing the fight song in the midst of a chaotic stage terrified and in tears was one of the most beautiful and unifying moments I have experienced here with Marist [M]usic.”
Despite the prior events, the Singers decided to continue with their schedule and hold their 5 p.m. show.
Figueroa stated, “This concert meant a lot to me. If anything, singing at 5:00 allowed me to cope with the anxiety-ridden afternoon. As [choral director] Sarah Williams said [prior to the concert], we cannot let this fear keep us from singing.”