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UPDATED: Envelope Sent to Memorial School Contained Cornstarch; FBI Investigating

A suspicious powder found in an envelope mailed to Memorial Elementary School was determined to be cornstarch, according to Milford police. Three other schools in New England reportedly received similar letters Tuesday, all from Texas.

Updated: The white powder mailed in an envelope to was determined to be cornstarch, according to Milford police, and three other schools in New England also reportedly received similar mailings Tuesday.

Children at Memorial were kept in their classrooms after the investigation began about 11:45 a.m., but were allowed to eat lunch as normal in the basement cafeteria, school officials said. Dismissal was not affected by the incident.

The white material fell out of an envelope opened by a school secretary, said Milford Deputy Police Chief James Heron, triggering the investigation by state and local hazardous materials experts.

The envelope was addressed to the school, but not a particular person, and mailed from Dallas on March 2, according to Superintendent of Schools Robert Tremblay. The return address and delivery address were printed onto a sticker, affixed to the envelope. Three similar envelopes were delivered to schools in New England Tuesday, Tremblay said. The others were reportedly in Dedham, and at schools in Connecticut and Maine, he said.

on Tuesday afternoon reported a hazardous materials investigation at Dedham Middle School.

The FBI has contacted Milford police about the letters, Heron said.

Tremblay photographed the envelope and said he would share the image with the state Superintendents Association. He has already told all school secretaries in Milford to not open any envelopes that have the Dallas address.

Tremblay said the children at the school were unaware of the situation playing out in the front office, and the response of emergency personnel to the front of the school. Only the kindergarten classes have windows facing the street.

Because the envelope was opened in the front office, all of the people in it were told to stay in that room, Tremblay said. The personnel included the school's principal, Lisa Burns, who was in her office when the secretary opened the envelope.

The children and teachers simply stayed away from the office area, he said.

"School went on," Tremblay said. "From the kids' perspective, there was no change."

While this was happening inside, outside the school, a half-dozen parents waited for information about what was going on. Several said they had received a reverse-911 call from the school superintendent, informing them that a suspicious white powder had been found in an envelope in the principal's office.

David Engrassia, whose son is in the first grade, said he received the call on his cell phone, and then his wife called. "She was concerned," said Engrassia, who works as a school custodian in another district.

Engrassia was satisfied his son was safe, in his classroom, but said he wanted to pick him up on dismissal, in case he had been scared by the incident. "He's inquisitive," Engrassia said. "Just in case they release him [early], I want to be here."

Tremblay said he sent out an initial notification once he had some information, to all Milford parents, not just the Memorial Elementary parents. And then he said sent out an update when the field tests indicated the substance was harmless.

The initial information, while incomplete, is important because parents learn quickly that something is happening at the school. "My feeling is you keep families informed, otherwise, they presume it's worse than what it is."

As to why Memorial Elementary was targeted, among others in the New England region, Tremblay said he was perplexed. "Whether it was random, I don't know."

Marsha March 06, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Does anyone know if this will affect dismissal?
Mike Maliska March 06, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Children at the school are in their classrooms, and are expected to be dismissed at the regular time.
Shannon Pataky March 06, 2012 at 07:52 PM
as a mom with 2 kids at Memorial, this has to be the scariest thing I've ever encountered. Thank you Patch and Patch readers for keeping me posted on FB. the call from the super intendent was informative, but to know that there are people phyically at the school updating posts was a bit comforting.
Sandy Quadros Bowles March 06, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Great job Mary as always!
Charlie Schnapps March 06, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I'm glad you see it that way, Shannon - I do too. I couldnt believe what I saw on the Milford Patch Facebook fan page, which was some readers telling Mary "Shame on you" for reporting the news before the schools sent out a 911 alert. I, for one, am glad that we have such a dedicated, in-touch journalist serving us in Milford. I bet the same person who said "shame on you" would have been furious had Mary kept that information under her belt.
Tony March 06, 2012 at 10:07 PM
That term "Shame on you" is widely overused and not in vogue anymore. I find the people who use the phrase the most, are the ones who should be ashamed.
Charlie Schnapps March 06, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Tony, I'm with you. I feel that saying "shame on you" is similar to the demand to "calm down." Neither achieves the desired effect. I don't think I'd ever feel actual shame if someone told me "shame on you," and I have never, ever calmed down when someone told me to calm down. Again, thanks Mary!
Mary MacDonald (Editor) March 06, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Thanks, Charlie. I told the upset readers on Facebook that our intention was not to set off a panic with an initial report that police and fire are investigating something, but to let people know what we do know at that point, however limited it is. When I arrived, just the sight of the emergency personnel at the school was upsetting passing drivers, who were asking what's going on? Word travels fast...
Myd Nevins March 06, 2012 at 11:11 PM
One of the best aspects of the Milford Patch is the speed that the local news is reported. Its often hours, or even days, ahead of the other media sources around here.
MilfordMomof3 March 07, 2012 at 12:03 AM
My child was in school and did know what was going on. She said her class was afraid because a dangerous chemical had leaked and they couldn't go near the office. Sometimes trying to over shelter the kids and not offer them any real information is scarier for them because they know something is going on.
Tony March 07, 2012 at 12:42 AM
So some of the teachers told their kids a dangerous chemical had leaked and they couldn't go near the office. Seems reasonable enough!
Marsha March 07, 2012 at 01:46 AM
While the whole situation was scary, I felt that Mr. Tremblay and the school handled it perfectly. My first grader came home not knowing anything ( her class isn't near the front of the school or the office), we were informed of the initial incident and quickly a follow-up message came to let us know it was all OK. I am very confident that had it actually been something else, THAT situation too would have been handled with calm, organized safety and communicated well to parents. Kudos to the whole Memorial staff and central office and town of Milford for handling this so well.
MrMilford March 07, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Hopefully there is some connection between the schools that the FBI will figure out and catch the person who committed this crime.
MrMilford March 08, 2012 at 03:26 AM
If this happened to some schools in Texas on MONDAY was why was not a warning sent out from Homeland Security Nationwide warning schools to be wary of these mailing? Who is to say that the ones open on TUESDAY were also going to be harmless? I thought this was one of the roles after 9/11 was to have better communication and warnings. I'd say the schools opening these letters on TUES should be very upset at an apparent lack of warning and that we were very lucky that the TUES packages were ALSO cornstarch and not something lethal. People should be upset that the system failed and not dismiss this based on the outcome for which no one influenced except the criminal sending these letters/packages.

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