GORHAM — A University of Southern Maine student is scheduled to appear in court Friday on charges of terrorizing and criminal threatening with a firearm following a four-hour police standoff at one of the school’s two remaining off-campus fraternity houses.
Alan-Michael Santos, 23, of Winchester, Mass., was being held Thursday on $15,000 bail at Cumberland County Jail in Portland after his arrest late Wednesday night.
Police said he refused to be interviewed about the incident and he declined a reporter’s request for an interview.
Police executed a search warrant Thursday morning at the Sigma Nu fraternity at 24 School St. and seized two handguns that they believe belonged to Santos. They did not recover any other guns in the building.
Santos – a junior majoring in business marketing – was not prohibited from owning a firearm and he has no known criminal history, police said. Police are looking into whether Santos has mental health issues. Lt. Christopher Sanborn of the Gorham Police Department said Santos made no suicidal threats before or during the standoff.
Santos had been with other members of the fraternity at Thatcher’s, a restaurant directly across the street from the fraternity house. He had been drinking and became belligerent, police and school officials said. He was asked to leave and was helped across the street by his friends to the fraternity house and up to his room.
“One of his (fraternity) brothers had gone in to check on him and was met with a gun,” Sanborn said. “That’s when everyone started evacuating the house.”
The students called police at 7:10 p.m. and officers, along with members of nearby departments and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, set up a wide perimeter around the house. Police cleared some nearby businesses, restricted access to the area and began negotiating with Santos, who had barricaded himself in his room.
Brenda Beeler, who works at Thatcher’s, said she received a call from police shortly after 7 p.m.
“They told us to lock down, not to let anyone in or out,” Beeler said Thursday afternoon.
Within minutes of the call, she said, police cars surrounded the house.
“It was a little weird,” she said. “But people were more curious than scared, I think.”
Beeler estimated about 10 patrons were in the restaurant during the lockdown and watched the standoff from the window.
“All the lights in the house were on,” she said. “We could see one person in a second floor room. He appeared to be just sitting there. That was the only real activity inside the house.”
Santos surrendered to police at 11:30 p.m. Nobody was injured.
‘THEY ARE WELL BEHAVED’
Beeler said Sigma Nu fraternity members come into the restaurant often and do not cause problems.
“They are well behaved. They tip well,” she said. Beeler said she doesn’t recall any incident that evening in which a patron became agitated.
The incident occurred a day after the shooting death of a student at Purdue University. A USM official had been interviewed earlier in the day about the school’s preparedness in case of such an emergency.
Santos has been charged with criminal threatening with a firearm, reckless conduct with a firearm and terrorizing, all Class C felonies, according to Sanborn. Santos also was charged with the civil infraction of creating a police standoff. Sanborn said he doesn’t expect Santos to face additional charges.
Santos has no criminal history in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification, and none in Massachusetts, according to the Criminal Justice Information Service.
The fraternity is the local chapter of the national Sigma Nu organization, headquartered in Lexington, Va., and founded in 1869 at the Virginia Military Institute.
A student at the fraternity house declined comment Thursday and referred questions to the national organization.
Brad Beacham, executive director of the national Sigma Nu organization, said he knew of no serious problems Santos had prior to Wednesday’s incident.
“I am not aware of any misconduct by this individual that is in any way at the level of what occurred last night,” Beacham said. “It does seem fairly clear … the conduct of this person is clearly outside not only our policy and principles but the policies of USM and potentially of the law.”
Beacham said the incident is unprecedented for the fraternity.
“Thankfully, until last night we have not had a situation involving a firearm,” he said.
The organization’s founding at a military institute does not mean its members are predominantly members of the armed services or enrolled in reserve officer training, he said. Over the years, Sigma Nu has attracted a broad range of members, including those who have made a career of military service, he said.
FRATERNITY ACTED ‘RESPONSIBLY’
Santos will likely face discipline from the fraternity and USM.
The university does not allow firearms on campus or at school-sponsored activities. However, university officials said that prohibition would not apply to off-campus housing, such as a fraternity house.
Keeping a firearm at the fraternity house does violate the terms of the (fraternity’s) insurance policy, said Bob Caswell, director of USM public affairs.
Assistant USM public affairs director Judie O’Malley said the incident could prompt a review of the fraternity’s behavior, but no decision has been made.
“The brothers acted responsibly in last night’s matter – evacuating the building and quickly calling USM Public Safety to report the incident,” O’Malley said. “Had they tried to resolve the matter themselves, we may be dealing with a different outcome.”
Fraternities and sororities must be recognized by the university to be considered legitimate student organizations. In past years, some organizations have had their recognition withdrawn by the school. There are now four fraternities, two sororities and one co-educational fraternity. USM has only two off-campus fraternity houses.
Beacham said he does not expect the USM chapter of Sigma Nu to face sanctions.
“Everything I understand about it at this point indicates this person acted alone and apparently acted unlawfully. There’s no information to think there will be disciplinary implications for the chapter,” he said.
ALERT SYSTEM EMPLOYED
Many USM students on campus Thursday knew little about the incident other than what they had seen on the news. They said because it happened off campus, there wasn’t much buzz in residence halls and no real panic.
The university is largely a commuter school. Only about 1,200 of its nearly 9,000 students live on campus. Most of the on-campus students were in their residence halls at the time, and most off-campus students were gone for the day.
Bridget Burns, 20, of Warrenville, Ill., was working in the university’s fitness center at the time.
“We didn’t go into lockdown or anything, but they told us to alert people who were in the gym,” she said.
Burns said she knows some of the Sigma Nu brothers and said they don’t have a bad reputation.
“From everything I’ve seen and heard, they don’t cause any problems,” she said. “They don’t even like to be called a ‘frat’ because they think it’s a negative word.”
Lt. Sanborn said Gorham police have not been called to the fraternity house for incidents at all in recent years.
Students who had signed up to receive USM alerts got one shortly before 9 p.m., another 45 minutes later and the last at 11:40 p.m. when the standoff ended.
The number of people who currently subscribe to the alert system, according to O’Malley, is 4,038, which includes students, faculty and others, including parents.
Had the campus gone into lockdown, O’Malley said, that would have triggered an email alert to all USM students.
The incident will be included in the university’s crime statistics even though it took place off campus, Caswell said.
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