Former student at Connecticut university releases hostages taken in classroom, surrenders

Wednesday, February 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ A recent college graduate described by a former roommate as a paranoid ``hermit'' was in police custody Wednesday after taking 23 people hostage in a university classroom and claiming to have a bomb.

Fairfield police charged Patrick Arbelo, 24, of nearby Bridgeport with 28 counts of first-degree kidnapping early Wednesday. Authorities said additional charges were pending, but couldn't explain why there were 28 counts when only 23 people were taken hostage.

The hostages _ an associate professor and 22 students _ were released gradually over the course of the seven-hour standoff at Fairfield University. No one was injured.

Arbelo remained in the classroom for about an hour after he released the last hostage, Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said. Arbelo ``came out and gave himself up peacefully,'' university spokeswoman Nancy Habetz said.

The 2001 graduate of the Roman Catholic university was held on a $500,000 bond and was to be arraigned Wednesday morning.

Police would not say whether the device Arbelo had was a real bomb.

Stephen Kriso, of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., roomed with Arbelo during the 1996-97 school year. He said Arbelo was a loner who sometimes appeared paranoid.

``He used to talk about the New World Order and the concepts of the Freemasons, and storing things in his attic in the event of a takeover by a group like the Freemasons,'' Kriso told The Associated Press.

Arbelo usually ate dinner when the cafeteria opened at 4 p.m. to avoid crowds, Kriso said.

``He was basically a hermit,'' he said.

But Kriso said Arbelo had never exhibited any violent behavior.

The religious studies class Arbelo interrupted, ``Voices of Medieval Women,'' is taught by Elizabeth A. Dreyer, the associate professor who was among the hostages.

Senior Ripton Marini of Rochester, N.Y., the last hostage to be freed, said the class had been proceeding normally when Arbelo walked in.

``He told us he had a bomb and he wanted to get his views across,'' he said.

Arbelo released students who said they were sick or too scared to stay, Marini said.

``He seriously, actually, was very nice the entire time,'' he said.

Flatto had said earlier the suspect made some demands, but said he could not provide any details or comment on a possible motive.

WCBS-TV in New York said Arbelo ordered one of the hostages to call the station, demanding that a statement be read over the air. The statement, which station spokeswoman Karen Mateo described as ``rambling and anti-Semitic,'' was not broadcast.

At the university, evening classes were canceled and students held a prayer service in one of the residence halls, student Joni Saunders said.

Svetlana Alyoshina, 19, a sophomore from Russia, said the campus was in shock during the ordeal.

``A lot of people are just looking for their friends right now, because we don't know who is in there,'' she said.

The school, which has about 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students, is in southwestern Connecticut about 50 miles from New York City.